When I was a young girl, maybe seven years old, my family lived in Cogan Station, Pennsylvania. It was a hilly region with a little “crick” running through the front yard near the road. We didn’t have much in the way of material belongings, but we did have abundance.
Late summer brought a harvest of sweet corn and cucumbers from our garden and abundant fruit from the trees and bushes scattered across our property. We had a single Seckel pear tree on top of our hill that produced the sweetest, smallest fruit. It’s rumored that the Seckel pear originated in Pennsylvania. Other native fruits included tart blush-colored apples and abundant large blackberries that grew wild along both sides of the path leading into the woods. My brothers and I would pick the berries and eat them, leaving purple sticky juice running down our arms.
We also had an abundance of kittens.
Our mama cat was officially named Snoopy, but we often called her Mama Kitty. She was an orange-and-white tabby cat with gold eyes and a very sweet disposition. She produced more than a dozen litters of kittens due to pairing with various outdoor cats in the surrounding areas.
My aunts would regularly drive to our home in their station wagons full of kids and shop for their favorites. I was the foolish girl who named and handled each one. I didn’t want those kittens to find new homes. I wanted to keep them all. I dressed them up in doll clothes. I took them outside to sit on the grass, cuddling them and waiting expectantly for their little eyes to open.
One summer day, a terrible storm blew in, bringing extreme wind and abundant rain. Mama Kitty gathered her latest batch of tiny kittens and brought them into the cellar for safety – all but one, an orange stripey kitty I lovingly named Cinnamon Toast.
The next day was sunny and warm, and I went outside to find him. I wandered around outside the house, distraught, thinking he’d surely perished in the storm. I was very worried about the kitten, and I plunked down on the small concrete staircase that led to our cellar to think about where he could be. Where was the little kitten hiding?
“Mew! Mew!” Was I dreaming, or did I hear a faint mewing? I got up and followed the sound. It led me to the dryer vent below the kitchen window.
“Mom! Mom!” I yelled, running hopefully into the house. My mom was washing dishes, and I dragged her outside to where I’d heard the sound, hopeful that she’d know what to do.
“I think he’s in the dryer vent,” I said. We went outside to investigate.
Mom reached her hand into the dryer vent. No kitten!
“I think he went down the tube that connects to the dryer,” she said.
We hurried down the concrete stairs into the cellar and raced down the wooden stairs inside. I ran to the dryer and flung open the door. “Mew! Mew!” We could hear him crying loudly.
He was stuck. The dryer would need to be taken apart to get the kitten out.
My dad worked during the week in Harrisburg, a 2-hour drive from our home, so my mom called our neighbor. He and his friend arrived quickly, took the dryer apart, and went in for the rescue.
My mom and I waited anxiously in the cellar.
And then the crying stopped.
“What happened?” I asked.
When they pulled Cinnamon Toast through the small space, his little neck got broken. The men gingerly laid him on a blanket on the concrete floor. His little body was still.
I was heartbroken. The kitten was gone.
But this was the country, and these things happened. Animals lived and died. And more animals were born to take their place.
My brothers and I decided to have a funeral for him.
We wrapped the tiny kitten in a blanket and carried him to the grassy field where the blackberry bushes led up to the woods. Joe dug a shallow grave. We buried him and had a little funeral, just the three of us. The grave marker was a wooden plank on which I’d written, “Here lies Cinnamon Toast.”
“What do you think happens now?” I asked Joe, my older brother.
“I dunno, I guess he goes to Heaven.”
I was satisfied with his answer, and we all turned and trudged back to the house.
A couple of weeks later, I thought about Cinnamon Toast and wondered if he’d made it to Heaven. I was very young and had only been to one human funeral before. I needed to find out.
I told my brothers I wanted to see if Cinnamon Toast had gone to Heaven, and they decided it was good to get confirmation. We gathered some small gardening tools and went back to the place where we’d laid him. I removed the grave marker, and we all started to dig.
We dug and dug and dug. No Cinnamon Toast!
“I guess he’s in Heaven!” I said. We put the dirt back in the hole, placed the grave marker on the empty grave, and went home.
To this day, I cannot explain what happened.