The Grandma Chronicles: The Summer of the Black Cat

Jules Leroy: Playful Kittens, oil on panel, 8 ...

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Do you remember your first pet? 

My memories of the velvet black cat that followed me home are bittersweet…tangled with my annual summer idyll at my grandmother’s house in Brooklyn and the events that took place after I left.

Brooklyn, New York may not seem like a country retreat to you…but it was for a little girl from the heart of Manhattan.  My grandmother’s house was on a tree-lined street…her backyard blooming with flowers and fruit trees was a paradise…a true Garden of Eden.

My grandmother had thirteen grandchildren…and as soon as each was old enough to sleep away from home, they were invited to spend two weeks during the summer with this very special lady.

 The Summer of the Black Cat took place when I was about eight years old.  It was the first morning of my two-week stay and my grandmother had sent me to the grocery store around the corner to pick up some milk and bread.  I felt very proud and grown-up as I selected the items and paid for them.  Leaving the store, I noticed a beautiful black cat sitting on the curb.  Walking over to her, I patted her sleek fur and then turned and started back to my grandmother’s house.  Crossing the street, I turned and noticed I had a little shadow following me…the black cat. 

Perhaps she smelled the milk in the grocery bag or perhaps she was just lonely and had enjoyed the attention I had given her.  But she followed me all the way back to my grandmother’s house!  I went inside and gave my grandmother the milk and bread.  “Grandma, grandma” I exclaimed.  “A beautiful black cat followed me home…can I keep her?”

My grandmother was quite hesitant, but I should explain that she had many beautiful singing canaries.  “Vivian” she said.  “You know that birds and cats don’t belong in the same house.”

The tears that were starting to trickle down my cheeks must have touched her heart.  “You can give her a bowl of milk, but under no circumstances can she come in the house.” 

I was THRILLED!  I quickly ran to the kitchen and poured some milk in a small bowl and hurried out to the cat.  I set the bowl down next to her and sat there, watching Blackie (for so I had named her) lap it up.  As soon as she finished she climbed up on my lap, curled herself around and settled herself contently.  And I was content as well.

For the next two weeks, I had a constant companion on my walks around the neighborhood and while I sat reading in the backyard.  I was always very careful to close the screen door carefully so that Blackie would not come into the house.

But all too soon the two weeks were over and it was time for me to return to my own home.  I was sad to leave Blackie, but there was no way I could take her back to our apartment in the city.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story.  A few days after I had returned home, someone left the screen door open and Blackie got into the house.  Before anyone realized it, she had jumped onto a table and reached one of the cages…and there was one less voice in the canary chorus at my grandmother’s house.  When my grandmother discovered the dead bird, she was extremely upset and angry.  Searching for the cat, she found it hiding under the sofa.  She realized that just putting it out of the house was not enough because the cat would try to get in at the first opportunity and someone might forget to close the door again.  So she put the cat in a shopping bag (this was many years ago before high tech pet carriers) and took a trolley to Coney Island and deposited the cat there…hopefully the next person who gave the cat a bowl of milk didn’t have any pet birds.

What would you have done in my grandmother’s situation?

Here are some options available if you find yourself with an unwanted pet:

  • Contact a friend or relative who might want a pet.
  • Call your local ASPCA or other animal rescue shelter.

If any of you have other suggestions, please leave a comment and share them!

My grandmother reacted in the heat of the moment, as many of us do sometimes.  But her main concerns were always for people and I have to be grateful for her willingness to allow a little girl to have her first pet.

I keep thinking that each Grandma Chronicle is going to be the last one…and I really thought this one would be.  However, there is one more story that I think relates to many young children who have separation anxiety, as I did.  Stop by tomorrow for The Grandma Chronicles: The Aborted Sleepover.  

The Grandma Chronicles: Many Peach Trees Grow in Brooklyn

Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio, Ohio Ce...

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Do you know the story of Johnny Appleseed?  Born in 1774, he was a true American hero who planted apple seeds and then sold the seedling trees for pennies so that early settlers could grow apples.  I guess we could call him one of America’s first nurserymen.

I don’t know all the details about that long-ago gardener, but I do know why there are so many peach trees growing on a particular street in Brooklyn.

As young parents, my grandmother and her husband bought a one-family home on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn.  It was a two story house with a small garden plot in the back.  And I know that the patch of dirt in the backyard of that house was a very special place for my grandmother.  For her, it was an escape when the frustrations of motherhood were overwhelming and a haven when the toils of housework called for a respite.

My grandmother told me that one day she had bought several pounds of peaches at the market.  After preparing them to use as filling for a peach pie, she held the pits in her hand, imaging the peach trees they might become.  Making up her mind, she put them in a paper bag, grabbed a small shovel and went outside to her backyard.   My grandmother proceeded to plant several peach pits in the rich earth.  Hurrying to the small plot of dirt next door, she planted a few pits there.  Her mission for that afternoon: find a home for each peach pit…and  she continued planting pits in every backyard on the street.   

I don’t know how many pits grew into peach trees…I do know that I picked many peaches from the tree behind my grandmother’s house…most of them wormy because she didn’t use any insecticides.  The next-door neighbor and my best friend who lived across the street also had peach trees in their backyards…probably equally as wormy. 🙂

As a child, I spent many blissful hours on my knees in that dirt, helping my grandmother plant and weed…learning much more than just how deep to plant a daisy seed or which weeds to pull up.  I learned to:

  • Care about and respect nature
  • Care about and respect others
  • Care about and respect myself

Another valuable lesson I learned from my grandmother was a love of cooking.  From my parenting book, SHOW ME HOW! BUILD YOUR CHILD’S SELF-ESTTEM THROUGH READING, CRAFTING, AND COOKING, here’s a lovely child-friendly recipe for a healthy fruit-laden cake that calls for apples, but you could substitute peaches if they are in season.


The wonderful aroma of apples and cinnamon baking in the oven…ahhhhh!

You will need: 2 cups all purpose flour, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 cup sugar, ¾ cup canola oil, 2 eggs beaten, 2½ cups apples (peeled and sliced thinly), ½ cup applesauce, ½ cup raisins, a large bowl, a 9×13 inch greased baking pan and a spatula.

  •  In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and ¾ cup sugar.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour and add the oil and eggs and mix well
  • Add the apples and raisins and stir until well distributed
  • Spread the batter in the greased pan.  Smooth with a spatula and sprinkle with ¼ cup sugar.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.
  • Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake…the cake is done if it comes out clean.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature. 
  • Serves 12…refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container.

Stop by tomorrow for the last installment of The Grandma Chronicles: The Summer of the Black Cat.

The Grandma Chronicles: Where are the Side-Lanterns on my Car?

1910 Model T Ford, SLC, UT

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Have you ever done something wrong, but were afraid to admit it?  And to cover it up, did you pass the blame off on someone else?

In my grandmother’s day, a husband’s word was law.  I never knew my grandfather, who passed away when I was an infant, but I’ve heard that he was a strict man.  My grandmother told me that at dinnertime, she would pass out books to each of her five children so that there would be quiet at the dinner table.  I don’t know whether my grandmother and her husband conversed…but I know the children ate with their heads buried in their books.  These days, most of us encourage conversation at the dinner table…it’s a wonderful time to relate the day’s events and share interesting moments.  And, although we might be horrified at a father who insisted on silence during dinner, you’ll have to admit that this policy did provide time for the children to read. 🙂

My grandfather had purchased one of the first cars made…a Model T…and I’m sure he was extremely proud of it.  I don’t know if you needed a license to drive a car in those days…but I know my grandmother didn’t have one…nor did she know how to drive.  However, one spring morning she decided that it was time for her to drive the car.  Taking it out on the street, she drove around the neighborhood, quite pleased with herself. 

And then she came to a very narrow street. 

With cars parked on both sides. 

And both side-lanterns were ripped off. 

As the last rays of the setting sun glinted off the shiny black surface of the car, my grandfather returned home from work.  I can imagine his horrified stare as he realized that the side-lanterns of his precious car were missing.  His roar of rage could probably be heard half-way down the street…certainly my grandmother heard it in the kitchen where she was preparing dinner.

“What happened to the car?  Did YOU drive it?” he shouted, angrily.  My grandmother paused for only a moment and then replied softly, “Walter drove it and I don’t know where he is.”

Walter was their oldest son…probably about 15 years old at the time.  As soon as she had returned home with the damaged car, my grandmother had told him the story and had pleaded with him to take the blame, but that she would hide him in the cellar for a few days until my grandfather had cooled off.  After all, the family could continue along for a few days without Walter, but what would the other children do if something happened to her.

I guess my grandfather did cool off, because years later, when I knew my uncle Walter, he was a successful musician, and he did NOT live in the cellar.  🙂

This story made a very deep and lasting impression on me when my grandmother told it to me many years ago.  The lesson I learned was that if you want a child (or anyone) to tell you the truth, you have to:

  • Try to listen without judgment or condemnation. 
  • Try to be patient. 
  • Try not to scream or scold or lose your temper.
  • Deal out fair and reasonable punishments or consequences for misbehavior.

Positive parenting takes time and effort…laying that foundation of trust and respect when children are young reaps wonderful benefits as they get older and helps create a life-long parent-child bond. 

Please stop by tomorrow for the last installment of The Grandma Chronicles: Many Peach Trees Grow in Brooklyn.