When I Was Your Age…

My kids have it so easy. Like all kids, they don’t think our home would be complete without something with fur, feathers, or scales they can play with—when they feel like it. And being the awesome parents we are, we have indulged our children with all of the above—a dog, a cockatiel, and 4, no wait, 3 fish (The big one keeps eating the little ones). Of course, the boys were all gung-ho to help take care of these creatures at first. “I’ll walk him and feed him EVERY DAY!” But once the novelty wore off (approximately 3 days), it became, “But Mooooom! I had to feed him LAST TIME!” Seriously, how lazy are my kids? How hard is it to pour dog food into a bowl? It takes WAY more effort to whine, stomp, and throw a fit, I’m sure, than to stick that measuring cup into the bag of Nutro Puppy Bites. I don’t think any 10-year-old has developed a case of carpal tunnel from scooping out puppy chow.

This is when I love to sit them down and lecture them with a dose of “When I was your age…!” I’m not sure it really bolsters their sense of responsibility, but it makes me feel better. And that’s what’s really important, isn’t it?

WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, I had to feed the cats. Now, maybe this doesn’t sound particularly difficult—or dangerous—to you, but that’s because you didn’t know what our cats were like.

I should start by saying that I grew up on a farm. We had many pets at different times—calf, raccoon, dove named Ross Perot—but one constant was CATS. Lots and lots of CATS. And not just any cats. Not “ooh-how-cute-why-don’t-you-crawl-up-into-my-lap-and-purr-while-I-pet-you cats.” FARM CATS. And there’s one thing you can say about farm cats: They’re HUNGRY. ALL THE TIME.

If you’re thinking that we must have spent a fortune on 9 Lives or Friskies keeping all these cats fed, think again. No Fancy Feast for this crowd. Nope. These cats got what we lovingly called “slop.” Yes, after each meal we would scrape our plates into a humongo ice cream container (minus the ice cream). If this wasn’t enough, we would add powdered milk to it, which wasn’t any sort of “for-human-consumption” powdered milk, I’m sure. I just remember that it was yellowish and smelled really bad.

So every day, my sisters and I would fight over whose turn it was to carry out this 10-gallon (that’s what it seemed like anyway) container filled to the brim with toast crusts, soggy cereal, questionable-smelling milk, week-old lasagna, and fat cut off from our roast beef to the barn. The funny thing was, when we had friends over, they always thought it would be “fun” to feed the cats. “Ooh, I’ll help you!” they always volunteered cheerfully. “I love cats!” My sisters and I would give one another that knowing look. Then we’d look at the friend with a mix of pity and a teensy bit of sadistic satisfaction. Oh, you poor, naive girl…

The kicking would begin as soon as we opened the porch door. There was always a cat or ten who was just waiting to shoot inside the house. This was not allowed for reasons that would be obvious to you if you would’ve seen the state of our cats. Then we would try to put one foot in front of the other without tripping over the cats who were determined to walk in between and over our feet. At the same time, we had to be cognizant of what was going in our peripheral vision. A few brave and agile cats were always ready to spring directly INTO the bucket of slop and had to be blocked with a quick flick of the arm. And there were always—ALWAYS—at least two cats fighting in front of us while we walked, making up a rolling ball of hisses and claws that continued rolling all the way to the barn.

Now, getting to the barn was only half the battle. Next came the moment of truth—reaching into the small, square opening to unhook the latch to the barn door. This was the only way to get into the barn, save only trudging our way through the cattle lot dodging protective mamas and angry bulls. No thanks. We just took our chances with the barn door latch, which about 83% of the time resulted in a bloody gash from the cat who was waiting on the other side to pounce at the first sight of human flesh.

Unlatching the door with blood running down to our elbow and spitting out the dirty cobwebs that invariably hit us in the face (If you’ve ever experienced cobwebs in a hay barn, you know what I’m talking about.), we’d creep in, eyes darting around for any sign of vermin, until we spotted the round metal “trough” in which we had to dump our “special delivery.” This is where the years of in-breeding (with the cats, not with us!) would really start to show because there was always at least one cat who stood in that damn metal pan and refused to move. It was usually the scrawniest looking cat with only one good eye and a broken tail. In its defense, I’m sure it was just determined to get some sort of nutrition to its scabby self. But it was incredibly annoying when we had about 30 other cats “meeeeoooowwwrrrriiinnngggg” in their loudest kitty voices and competing to see how long they could hang by their claws on our thighs. So we did what we had to do. And poured that crap right on the cat’s head. They never seemed to mind, which was even more disturbing.

Afterwards, we’d slink back to the house, nursing our wounds and reeking of bad cottage cheese and musty hay, all the while looking forward to doing it again tomorrow.

So, kids, when you’re pouring a half-cup of dry, all-natural dog food into the cute little ceramic dog bowl, think about what “feeding your pets” meant WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, and just be thankful YOU don’t have to risk life and limb to do it!

***Stay tuned for more heartwarming stories about my cats (and other various pets) from my childhood…Can you say, “honyock?” 🙂 ***


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