It was August of 1976 when my brother introduced me to his 19-year-old girlfriend. The moment we were alone he leaned in and whispered, “She’s cute, right?” She was that, all four feet and eleven inches of her. “I swear, you don’t have to be in love with her to love her. Anyone would love her.” He was right but adore is a better word. She is adorable.
Dixie was just a kid when they married—always a big gamble, especially combined with a honeymoon pregnancy. Our lives flew by in years and entire decades, sharing the joy of having babies and raising children and the sorrow of betrayals, cancer, deaths in the family, divorces, broken hearts, and Great American Financial Train Wrecks. We never lived in the same town but it didn't matter. With Mom and Dad gone for more than thirty years, her heart holds my history in a way no other heart can.
Whenever I visit Colorado, we usually meet at her daughter’s hippie haven in the high Rockies, or as Dixie calls it, "Our private woodland retreat." The tiny, rustic town of Leadville is perched at 10,152 feet and famous for early snow. But on this sun-drenched autumn day, the air shimmered like gold dust against a bright blue sky. Dixie and I arrived just moments apart and headed out to the upper-deck patio to fall into easy laughter. With little Naava in school and Neysha and Russel still working, the world was our oyster—at least until the moment Dixie jumped up amid a string of expletives.
Family cat #1 had just slipped out the partially open door and was rubbing up against the lawn chair in front of us. Scooping her up in a heartbeat, Dixie launched into worries that Cat #2 might have done the same thing. Hazie is a skittish mess, damaged from previous runaway trauma history. If she escaped, she might never return—alive. In fact, Hazie even hides inside the house like a phantom pet. This fragile feline situation was all news to me. Horrors.
Had we not been running late to pick Naava up from school, the next step would have been an all-out hunt for Hazie—in spite of the fact that house had a gazillion hiding places. Dixie and I assured each other that we would have noticed Hazie walking in front of us. Surely we weren’t that lost in conversation. But as we were pulling away, Dixie could see Hazie darting through the pines ahead of us. Jamming on the brakes she flew out the car door but it was too late. Kitty flashed a brief glare in our direction and bolted across the road.
The impending crisis banished all thoughts of picking up Naava—she would just have to wait until her mom finished her end-of-day teaching tasks. We were women on a mission. Special Forces, Navy Seals, a SWAT team of two. We even split up to cover more ground with our non-stop kitty-kitty-kitty calling, street stake-outs, and skulking around neighboring back and side yards.
Hazie had disappeared on a property with a massive wrap-around deck she could easily hide beneath, so I came up with the brilliant idea of forcing her out with full-deck synchronized heavy stomping and yelping. Arm in arm, screaming at the top of our lungs, feet crashing down as if we were trying to break every board. After raising a ruckus that could have been heard three blocks away, we were fairly certain of two things: Hazie was not under the deck and those neighbors were not home.
Who is going to dispute our story, their other cat?
Just as we turned to go, Hazie broke loose and made a run for it, darting back across the street toward the properties that border the forest. Knowing the deep woods could be the point of no return, Dixie was racked with anxiety. If anything happened to Hazie, Neysha and Russel would be so angry about her leaving an open door.
“I can’t stand to be here and have Neysha mad at me. I would have to turn around and go back home.”
What?! Dixie can’t leave me here to bear the heat of a family apocalypse. I only show up once a year and I've never seen my niece or her husband remotely upset about anything.
Fortunately, panic triggers my primal survival instincts, aka criminal mind. “Wait a minute, before this goes any further, we need to agree on a story that leaves us innocent. How about this one: We were stepping through the arcadia door from the living room out to the patio when Hazie darted right past our legs. We tried to catch her, called her, ran after her, but she was too fast. That’s when we started tracking her around the neighborhood. No one could be blamed for that!”
Dixie was desperate enough to buy the ruse. Who is going to dispute our story, their other cat?
The gods were with us: The moment we crossed the street, Dixie saw Hazie slipping under a rickety staircase near a side door. We could see her glowing eyes through cracks in the boards but she refused to budge in spite of our coaxing. Legal marijuana all over the place but where’s a wad of catnip when you really need it? At least we had the relief of knowing that Hazie had avoided the dreaded abyss of the Dark Forest—so far.
Dixie was keeping watch over the loosely cornered cat when I noticed a black SUV turning down our road. Running into the street to flag Neysha down, my arms were waving wildly—first in a gesture that was meant to say “We need you to come over here!” and then an exaggerated shrug to indicate “It’s not our fault, we couldn’t help it.” None of these gyrations made any sense to the driver of the SUV, who turned into the driveway of the house with the gigantic wrap-around deck. Uh-oh. I hope that lady doesn’t get out of her car and come over here thinking I’m in trouble—or rabid.
"So you two have been running all over the lesbians' property?"
Embarrassed at my outlandish display, I was heading back toward Dixie when another car turned the corner—the familiar orange sedan that had been parked in Neysha’s driveway for the past seven years. Yes, I do have a small issue with being observant and remembering details. My husband once asked me to make an oil-change appointment for his company car, also our second family car, and when the mechanic asked what kind of vehicle it was, I said Blue.
HIM: “I mean what make is it? I want to be sure I have the right filter.”
ME: “I understood the question but blue is all I know—oh, and it’s new. It's new and blue.”
HIM: “Can you at least tell me if it’s American?”
ME: “Yes, it's American—sounds like I better call my husband and get back to you. I had no idea you needed so many details.”
HIM: “No, no, it’s okay, if it’s new and American we should be fine. (I could sense this conversation was going to be shared the moment we hung up.)
Neysha was already in the kitchen by the time I burst in with our concocted story, but she seemed strangely calm about the news. Not at all what I expected. In fact, something flashed across her eyes—what was that? An amused smile? Disbelief?
"So you two have been running all over the lesbians' property?"
I assured her that neither one of them is home, which I hoped was true. As much as Neysha and Russel love the doctor, her lawyer partner has been an ongoing nightmare. She even called Russel and told him to move his wood pile to the opposite side of the property because she didn't like the way it looks. That didn't happen.
Neysha grabbed a flashlight, headed next door, and dropped on all fours for a clear look at Hazie cowering beneath the stairs. As she stood up, she turned to Dixie, “Mom, did you actually see Hazie run out the door?” Something in Neysha's voice tipped Dixie off. We were busted.
“Well, no, we didn’t really see her run out the door. We just saw her at a distance running through the trees.”
“Mom, that cat isn’t Hazie. It’s not even a good color match—Hazie is much darker.”
Apparently, the feline we stalked and trapped belongs to the people with the big black SUV and gigantic wrap-around deck. We had been terrorizing the neighbor's cat, including driving it from its own safe hiding place in its very own yard. Not to mention spending the last 45 minutes making a neighborhood spectacle of ourselves.
Neurotic little Hazie was fast asleep under Neysha and Russel’s bed, a place she only leaves when she needs to eat or use the litter box. Okay, so that would have been really good to know.
Naava later sent Grandma Dixie a digital photo of Hazie that she took with her dad’s camera. The text above it read, “So you can remember how Hazie looks.”
A few weeks later, Dixie received a surprise gift in the mail—some business cards I designed to celebrate the launch of our joint venture….