Fluffy helps bring back childhood memories

#477 in a series of true experiences in real estate
December 2004, Hills Newspapers

I didn’t think to talk to my aunt Wilma about Fluffy, a golden-furred cat of whom she was very fond.

It wasn’t till we got home and my own silky cat, not yellow but gray, jumped to my lap and settled in for a snooze, that I remembered Fluffy.

I can still see him, his body rounded as he slept in the sun coming in the windows in my aunt’s dining room. He was big. And he lived a long, long time, 22 years I think.

We were invited, as we thankfully are each year, to Thanksgiving at the homestead-ranch in Napa. Most everyone was there, Wilma and her children, their children, and a few of the next generation too.

My cousin Paul asked me what year I had first come to the ranch; how old was I? I said I wasn’t sure; when had Wilma and Bob bought it? Wilma said she thought it was 1943, so I would have been two. Val got out the metal box of important papers and shuffled through it until she found the original deed, bright red stamps affixed.

“Yes, June, 1943,” she told everyone at the table.

“But wait, when did Bob leave for the Army?” I asked. “He must have been here when you bought the ranch?”

Discussion followed. Bob was away when their first child was born, didn’t see Bobby until he was 18 months old. So I must have stayed with Wilma, alone, at the ranch, and I do have memories of those days.

Fluffy was much later, long after Bob was back from the war, long after there were 4 cousins to play with, to run around with barefoot in the hot summers. Once when I was very small, I wanted Wilma to put me on the seat of the red truck parked near the back door. She boosted me up, leaving one door open, then went to do something inside the house.

When I tired of my truck experience, I tried climbing down, but the gravel driveway was far below. “Wilma,” I called. “Wilma.” She didn’t hear me.

I don’t know how long I was stuck there high up in that truck but the memory has stayed all these years. Now, at Thanksgiving, Wilma says, “I don’t remember that,” and I tell her that’s just what my mom, Wilma’s sister, always said.

“Remember when,” I’d say at various times, then tell of some intense happening. “No,” she’d answer, “I just don’t remember that.”

Everyone laughs. “We did have good times, didn’t we?” says Wilma.

Oh yes, we certainly did. Eating juicy peaches off the tree while standing in the orchard, soft naked feet on hard dirt clods. Riding on the tractor. Catching, saddling and riding horses around the corral. Building forts in the tall grass. Putting on shoes, washing our faces to go to town.

“And on Sunday, we’d go in the back door of the bakery, it smelled so good and warm, to buy donuts,” Wilma remembered,. “when we went to town to get the Sunday paper.”

“And you rented us cartoons at the drugstore to watch after the home movies,” I said, to which “Mmm” was all Wilma replied.

“Well, when did my parents meet yours?” Paul asked our friend Melanie. Mel’s parents live up the road. “When the dogs ate our turkeys,” said Mel. “When was that?”

Oh yeah, I remember that story. Wilma and Bob’s dogs got loose and killed some of Mel’s parents’ turkeys. Bob got an angry phone call. Wilma and Bob got in the truck, drove up the road to scold and retrieve their dogs, and to view the carnage.

Everyone was so shocked and upset (the young couples were meeting for the first time) that no one knew what to do. Bob hurriedly dug a hole and buried the dead turkeys. It wasn’t until later that it occurred to everyone that they could have cooked and eaten the turkeys.

My brother Greg has said over the years that he often felt outdistanced by the Napa cousins. They had country superiority, and he, a city kid, had no specialized knowledge they were interested in.

I don’t think I felt this way, but as the oldest in the group, I probably was teased less than my brother and sister. I did want to know why my cousins laughed when I called their cattle “cows.”

I was fascinated, also horrified, at branding and castrating. “What are they doing, and why?” I asked listening to the terrible bawling of calves. Tying up the grapes looked tedious; migrant Mexican families with their babies under the prune trees, exotic. Mournful nighttime cries to mama, mama, I was greatly relieved to learn, came not from a small child but were a peacock’s call.

There were lots of warnings to the uninitiated, including me. “Don’t stand behind the horses; they kick. Make sure the saddle girth is tight or you’ll roll off the horse. Don’t go near the lake or the Mudman will get you. Close the gates.”

This last I got into trouble over. I’m pretty sure I was the one who left a gate open once. Two horses got out and ran like the wind through the orchards toward the road.

Bob was real mad. We all – Bob first, Wilma and all the kids and I – ran after them. I can still see it, all of us running over the rough dirt calling to the horses. I felt very bad.

Bob eventually caught them, came back into the cozy house still angry. But, no doubt, Wilma was already running water in the bathtub upstairs for a bunch of us to take a bath at once. Afterward, when we all had our p.j.’s on, she would read to us, and for sure, we went to sleep with good dreams of the morrow. As, I assume, did Fluffy.

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