I have some very close friends that have a half dozen cats at their country home, all of which I believe were dumped out there by the unfeeling . All were found cold and extremely hungry. It's good to see them now, well fed, happy and cared for as indoor cats in a spacious country home with a huge basement for them to explore. I remember evenings with my old black lab Barkley up on the couch, surrounded by the original four cats, their purr of content as they lay on top of the couch or next to him, drawing on the warmth of his big furry body, suffering the occasional snoot with a clawless and gentle swat to his nose.
These cats are family, but still, I am a dog person, even as I have a soft spot for any animal that is homeless or mistreated. Walking through my neighborhood with Abby, our new rescue dog, yesterday, I saw a cat, arrested within the eyes of that dog, pulled up high in the apostrophe of fear as he held poised for fight or flight. I pulled Abby gently away, as she had cats at her foster Mom's house and we weren't in for a rumble. But I didn't want Abby to get a clawed nose for her curiosity. The cat's coat was in good condition as far as I could tell, but it was a thin, likely a stray. I was going to see where it went, where it might have a home, but it was gone in a flash before I could check on its well being. I'd seen her before, always hanging around the same spot in the fence, where she likely had found a safe place to sleep.
But animals aren't the only "strays" we see, people fall into that same category. I'm not talking homeless, necessarily, but those people that by circumstance or transplant find themselves in a new city, for a new job, or a fresh start, where they don't know anyone, or are stranded somewhere while traveling for a day or days, due to weather and fate.
I found myself in that circumstance the first year I was in Indiana. I'd only been on the job a few weeks, not enough time to make any friends. I'd moved here from back east, too far to visit any old friends after the cost of the move. My parents were in San Diego at my Step Aunt's condo, where they spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas after my Mom died and my dad remarried two years later, to a widow with three adult kids. I wasn't invited-- the place not being big enough for the whole blended family. Dad felt bad I'd be alone, but he wanted his wife to be happy, her time with her sister, growing short, the rest of her siblings gone. I understood that and would visit them for a belated Christmas at home on their return, but it still made the holiday lonely.
There was no car, just a flash of light reflected off a nearby road, and it brought back every moment as a child, those moments we have all had, when we feared we just didn't fit in, that we didn't belong.
Yes, thirty pounds of potatoes, for although I expected RSVP's from about six people, I ended up with twenty-seven people, pilots I worked with, a couple of our mechanics, and a few corporate pilots that used our facility and stayed at the local hotel while their passengers enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and they got free Cable. They arrived with drinks and chips and thankfully, some extra rolls and a couple of pies from the Safeway store.
It was a wonderful evening, with massive quantities of food eaten, countless stories told and much laughter, eating until we couldn't eat anymore. There was something starry in the kitchen that night, where I learned as much about my ability to organize and create as I did about the essential bond that a meal around the table creates, even if it's a bunch of card tables shoved together with white bleached sheets over them.
But that night, if only for a few hours, we had that bond of family and food, warmth and safety. It was that moment when chance aligns with time, whose only foe is death, and together, death's darkness seems so very far away.
You see them at an airport, that frazzled traveler that just missed the last flight, that young person sleeping on the floor after their flight canceled, without the means to secure a hotel room. I've offered a hot coffee and a sandwich with a smile to more than one soldier or college student I saw stranded at the airport. Because I have been that young person with rumbling stomach, surrounded by strangers, wanting only to be home.
I had a flight between two Midwest cities a few years back after I'd picked up a couple of days work as a contract corporate pilot The city where I was flying wasn't home but it was near where I was spending Thanksgiving with friends when I got the call to cover for a pilot out sick, for a company I'd done some contract work before. Easy money and the holiday was about over anyway.The sky was cold and cloudy as I waited for my return flight, to be followed by a long drive home, but there was no precipitation All of a sudden, our flight was canceled, with no reason given, but we were only told we'd be on another flight real soon. I didn't see any mechanics at the plane, and the flight crew was all there, so I called Flight Service, for the aviation weather, giving them the N number of the plane I'd just flown in, the previous night. There was severe icing aloft, unusual to be so widespread, but deadly. No one, big or small, was going to be flying out of that airport, and likely for the rest of the day.
We said our goodbyes and walked away towards home. The sun, whose brilliant form dwarfs us all into the smallest of particles upon the earth as we are held within it's glare, was hidden behind the steeled gray of cloud cover. With it's brightness now captured behind a stratified door, the night fell upon us as we walked to our cars, it was as if we were all just shadows, covered with a fine, soft scattering of night, falling like ash.
I never saw any of them again.
As the phone rang with the cherished voice of my husband, letting me know he had reached his destination safely, I realized I had much to be thankful for. Even in an empty house, there was a gentle doggie snore of an adopted friend until the clock struck the duty hour and I gathered a black bag and gear in case the phone rang in the middle of the night. But before that occurred, there was something I needed to do. With a quick warm hand pressed for a moment on top of a cold square box in which my furry best friend lay, I left the house and walked to a little store a block away, a can opener and a little plastic bowl in my pocket. I got some cat food and put it out in a bowl along a solitary fence.
For everyone, at one time, is a stray.
For everyone, at one time, is a stray.