The Portugal Years – Second Year: The Cat’s Meow

When we brought our little Samantha Cat home, we had not considered all the attending possibilities. Harry’s mother was a farm girl who believed animals belonged out-of-doors; he had no experience with pets. In fact, for a while, even Sammy was a little frightening to him.

Kittens, as you may know, grow into cats. Sammy took her time maturing, but when she hit puberty, all the tom cats within a square kilometer showed up around our home. My last cat was spayed. She was a cat who knew the meaning of decorum. For several weeks, Sammy “sang” and howled to the toms, and they filled in with the descant and watered the door. I didn’t need a translator to know what it meant. But, hey, how hard can it possibly be to keep one small cat in a house with closed windows and doors?

We had wanted to spay her, but we had no money for it. We did our best to keep her indoors. We thought we succeeded, but Sammy was a sly creature. One day I heard her calling me – from the outside of the house. The damage was done.

As Sammy’s girth passed mine, I considered the stories I had heard about cats wanting to make their own “nest” when they were ready to birth their offspring. It was a cold spring, and there was no central heating, I worried about the soon coming kittens surviving the cold, and ended up making a nest next to the stove in the kitchen. Just in case.

One Saturday morning I was cleaning when I realized I had a stalker. Sammy was right behind me on every step . When I stopped and looked at her, she mewed. It took me a few minutes to realize that she wanted me to follow her. Right into the kitchen and into her box she went. I petted her, and went back to my tasks. She followed me and mewed and purred. This went on for about half an hour when something clicked. I was her midwife of choice.

I felt like Prissy in Gone With the Wind. The closest I had come to a “birthin'” of any kind was a graphic movie called Emergency Childbirth that they showed us in tenth grade health class. (Three boys passed out.) But Sammy didn’t need any emergency help.  Unless I looked like leaving the room. That was verboten!

It was an extraordinary experience. Sammy purred through the ordeal. A kitten emerged about every 45 minutes until there were four of them. Sammy licked them and bit the miniscule umbilical cords like a boss. The loud purring  guided the newborns to Sammy’s teats. They were tiny, and looked more like rats than kittens.

About two weeks afterward, my doctor became concerned about something that might become a problem, and put me on bed rest for a week or so. Sammy found this unacceptable. Sammy spent about half an hour going back and forth between my bed and the box with the kittens. Then she disappeared.

I had dozed off when I felt her land rather clumsily on the foot of the bed. I opened my eyes and saw her depositing one of her kittens near me. The other three followed, and she was finally content.

Newborn siamese kitten.
Newborn siamese kitten. Their markings come as they mature.

Have you ever had an extraordinary experience with an animal?

The Portugal Years – Year One: Samantha Cat

Siamese CatAfter the holidays, life settled into a routine. I thought I would take another semester at the University, but when they tested me they wanted to put me in the advanced class. I was worried that it would be too much too quickly. When I tried to get into the intermediate class, it was already full. So, we decided that I would continue with my private tutoring once a week.

About that time a lot of friends were looking at me speculatively and others were coming right out and asking if I was pregnant yet. I wasn’t, though. Not yet. I did have my baby Seal Point Siamese kitty, Samantha, though. Sammi was fun. She followed me around the house and played with me. I had wanted a Siamese cat since I had visited a college friend’s home where her family had a stable full of cats and at least three of them were Siamese.

If you’ve had little contact with Siamese cats, please put away your copy of Lady and the Tramp and cut Siamese cats a break. They are mischievous and intelligent creatures, and most of them are quite vocal. Harry did not grow up with four-legged family members, and he wasn’t entirely on board with the whole thing, but he humored me. It was still our first year of marriage.

One evening, another couple from our organization (also newlyweds) came over to visit. The husband was not a fan of cats (a condition that frankly, I do not understand). When they came into the house, he did a visual sweep of the perimeter of the living room and looked for Sammi. Then, he settled down in a comfortable chair. Thirty minutes later, after he had let down his guard, Sammi casually walked around from the back of the chair, gave a sudden leap and landed on the arm of the chair next to the husband’s arm. I am positive that Sammi tipped me a wink with a twinkle in her bright, blue eyes.

The Portugal Chronicles – Year 1- Living and Learning

Portugal Team
The Portugal Team, 1979 – Harry and I are on the far right. Can you tell which are the Americans and which are Portuguese?

One Sunday afternoon we met up with the rest of the Portugal Team for a group picture. It was early fall, and the weather was cool. Harry wanted me to fit in as well as possible, and had counseled me to leave my bright American clothes in the states. Reluctantly, but with the newlywed desire to please, I did the best I could. Harry fit in except for one incurable problem: he was much too tall.

Another day I met him in town to shop for furniture. While I waited on the designated corner, I noticed that the shop I was standing by was a pet store. A litter of Siamese kittens were overflowing with cute in the window. Harry was not moved by their beautiful blue eyes.

We picked out a sofa, some chairs and a bed frame. We already had a mattress and had been sleeping on it on the floor. Then, he took me to the appliance shop to choose a stove. The first serious culture shock hit. Those stoves were too small for my baking pans. My second shock came when I looked at the front of the stove. There were buttons for the burners, but the oven had only two heat settings: low and high, indicated by a small flame and a large flame. I asked Harry about that. He said that all of the stoves were like that. *mild panic attack* I persevered, though, and eventually found a stove with temperature settings. In Celsius.

The things that we sent by ship (including our 220 washer and dryer) arrived around two months after we did. After about two weeks and some greasing of palms we had our things. It was like Christmas as we opened boxes and set up housekeeping for reals.

One night around ten p.m., Harry and I were cuddling in one of the new chairs in the living room as is the manner of newlyweds. Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the door. Harry pulled himself together to answer the door and I took myself off to another room in the house. It was one of the missionaries from another organization. He had seen a light on in our apartment and thought he’d stop by and say hello.

One fine day we went back to the pet store. Harry, in the way of newlyweds, wanted to please me. We  bought a Siamese kitten and named her Samantha. Animals were not allowed on buses, so we had to smuggle her home in a cardboard carrying box.

Parque Eduardo
The park in Lisbon where the photo was taken. In the distance is the monument to the Marques de Pombal and the Tagus river.