To my great delight, she let me put a little bowl of milk in the garage for him. He wasn’t allowed in the house, but he really was my kitty, at least for those couple of months, or for however long he continued to come around our ranch house on Varano Drive in the suburbs of St. Louis. My mom allowed me to feed him, and I called him Cinnamon Toast after what was, and still is, my best breakfast.
It’s a glorious drive up north of Rockford; it’s almost magical in the blaze of September’s foliage. My one passenger has fallen asleep with her headphones in her ears, so I have no guilt for getting lost in my reveries as we combat miles of post-harvest cornstalks and hay bales reminiscent of an impressionist painting. If we stop making this journey to counseling, will it even make a difference? I wonder, but my soul would certainly miss the stillness of the country roads if we stayed behind. And maybe, just maybe, the healing is beginning.
The worst part about having cinnamon toast for breakfast is the butter.
“What’s wrong with this butter? I can’t get it to spread on my toast.” Her look was one of anger, frustration, even blame. It’s just butter. I love butter.
“Well, you could put it in the microwave to soften it a bit, or you can put it between two pieces of toast until it gets a little melty.” She let out a sigh before I had even finished my words and kept rolling the butter along the toast with her knife.
“Or (and now I think she was getting mad), we can keep a stick in the butter dish in the cabinet so it’s always ready.”
We moved to Chicago in winter of my first grade year. I don’t remember if Cinnamon Toast stopped coming around before we packed our suitcases, or if he would return to the garage, bewildered as he looked for his bowl of milk. I often wondered what happened to him, and I wondered if he wondered where the family that he once had, had gone. I wonder now, if my kids wonder about that sort of thing. There may be a new last name, but there is a lifetime of experiences and memories which cannot, which will not be forced away.
“Cart six’s mom is here!” The voice of the emergency room receptionist reminded me of some sort of dart gun as it shot through the waiting room late on that Tuesday night. I had never before been called “Cart six’s mom,” but that is exactly what I became that night.
My child did not want me in the room with her.
“Have a seat, and the charge nurse will be out to speak with you.” I chose a vinyl chair that blocked the emergency room door so I could not see the sick and wounded people as they entered. When I stretched out my legs, I noticed that in my haste to reach my daughter (who did not actually want me there) I had chosen one pink and one brown slipper. I was to spend the next seven or so hours waiting, wondering, and remaining on the other side of the door, with mismatched, though comfortable, slippers. My friend came to sit with me long into the morning. I wondered what the others thought as we tried to pass the time, and as our conversation led us, more than just once or twice, to laughter. How could we be laughing at a time like this? How could we not? Things are not always what we expect.
We have been at the farm for a month now. Foundation repairs and driveway gravel have replaced visions of a family room addition complete with woodstove. Even so, I am so grateful to be here. Each morning, I try my best to take a minute to look at the sunrise, to remind myself of the newness of the day and the anticipation of the gifts it might bear. I try to catch the evening sky, which often looks like smoothly-scooped sherbet or cotton candy spun with sparkly sugar. I know that, even on the darkest day, there are these reminders of what is here for us on this earth.
When the days are hard and long, when the harsh words are plentiful, the guilt, the anxiety, and the questions take over… the questions for which there are no answers.
My parents bought me a kitty named Ginger in the summer of 1973 or 1974. Ginger, unlike Cinnamon toast, was an inside cat; she was the first in what would be a long line. There was Fifi Trixibelle, Coco, Rose, Fern, Snowball, Pearl, Semi Truck Driver Jeff, and now Juliet, who has just been caught licking the butter (which had been left out to soften). All were inside cats.
When the time is right, we are going to get some cats for the barn. One, I know, will be named Cinnamon Toast, to honor the one who has come before, to help me remember to celebrate the gifts of the moment, and to celebrate my favorite breakfast of all time…with butter.