My brothers—mostly my brothers—and I had to clean out our mother’s house so we could sell it. As the family historian, or the one interested in such things, or with the time to do it, I took charge of a couple of boxes of pictures and documents that our mother kept in a cedar chest, and a few days back I pulled out one of the boxes and started going through it.
That was a mistake. I am never in a good mood and doing that, looking at pictures of a bunch of dead people from long ago, didn’t help my mood any. But I found this picture and I think at some level I have been thinking around and about it since I first saw it. But I don’t know what I am thinking about exactly and whatever it is seems pretty confused and full of conflict.
That’s a picture of the first house we lived in when the old man took us back to South Carolina after WWII to grow cotton. I think the house had electricity but it didn’t have running water or in door bathing and toilet facilities. I appear to be looking at or for something in the grass. Off to my right is a cat high tailing it out of the area. A shovel leans up against the wall, and the screen on the door to the porch is a particularly thick and rusty kind of screen that’s hard to describe but you would know it if you have seen it. Whenever I have seen it I have wanted to touch it. It has that effect.
I don’t remember the day of course or the house. I wish I remembered the cat. But I do recognize the kid. That’s me, OK. I know that. But I have a difficult time making the connection between me, as I sit here at a computer looking out the window at the California mountains about 58 years later, and that kid. But I do feel a sort of personal, though generic, attachment.
I say generic because in general I like little kids about that age. Whenever I bump into a little kids about that age I say hello, or sometimes, if I am wearing it, I take off my hat so they can see part of my head come off. Usually, they don’t mind. My conversations with these little kids are pretty brief, and I almost always find them satisfying. I can’t say much passes between us, but enough I expect. What’s there to say but hello and then goodbye? That’s probably the most basic and fundamental conversation anyway, hello and then goodbye. That sort of wraps it up, I think.
I am glad the cat is in the picture. I must have disturbed it—the way it is high tailing it out of there—just moments before the picture was taken. When I first saw the picture I thought it was a little weird-assed goat with a long tail sticking up, but that didn’t make any sense; then I saw that what appeared one of the ears of the goat was in fact the right front leg of the cat.
I like animals too and I try to communicate with them whenever possible. While I am very fond of cats, it would have been cool if the cat had been a goat. I know we kept goats now and then. Goats are an under-rated animal, pretty interesting, and even a little intelligent, I think. Not like sheep or your basic fleshy fat cow. They have a dull and dead look in their eyes. But a goat will recognize the person who feeds it. Cows—they don’t give a damn who you are. They just want to be fed.