The Lion Tamer

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Lion Tamer

I stared in disbelief at the black-and-white kitten dangling from my index
finger by its tiny, white teeth.

The feeling of disbelief lasted for only a second, though. When I let out a
screech, the kitten dropped to the floor and disappeared behind a pile of boards.

"Oh, my," murmured our elderly next-door neighbor, Mrs. Paulson, "they ARE a
little wild, aren't they?"

A LITTLE wild? As far as I was concerned, they were a LOT wild.

Going to visit Hannah Paulson was one of my favorite summer-time activities when
I was a kid growing up on our farm. There were no other children in my family (my
sister was 19 years older than me and my brother was 21 years older). And there
were no other neighbors--either with or without children. So that sort of left
just Hannah. I would have liked nothing better than to visit her every day, but
Mom wouldn't let me because she was afraid I'd make a pest of myself. Therefore,
I had to be content with going two or three times a week.

I'm not exactly sure why visiting the neighbor was so fascinating, except that
Hannah always seemed to be doing something interesting. Like cutting and
arranging flowers. Or painting the barn. Or even cleaning out the old chicken
coop. She usually let me help, too.

And today when I had arrived on my bicycle, Hannah announced she was going to
look for kittens in the old milkhouse. The Paulsons, who were both retired, had
purchased the farm from relatives of theirs. But even though the place had once
been a working dairy farm, Hannah and Bill didn't keep any cows.

They did, however, have plenty of outside cats they'd inherited when they bought
the place. Mrs. Paulson loved cats, and whenever there was a litter of kittens,
she always tried to find the nest so they wouldn't be wild. That's how we'd
ended up in the milkhouse looking for kittens, and how I'd ended up with one
dangling from my hand by its tiny white teeth.

I inspected my finger to see how many puncture marks I'd acquired. There were

"Did it break the skin?" Mrs. Paulson asked.

I held out my hand.

Hannah adjusted her glasses. "Tsk. Tsk," she said. "We'd better wash that, put
some ointment on it and cover it with a Band-Aid."

A little while later after Hannah had doctored my finger, we returned to the

"Are you SURE you don't mind trying to catch those kittens?" she asked.

"No, I don't mind. Dad says if you don't get a hold of them when they're little,
then they'll always be wild."

Mrs. Paulson nodded. "Here you go then." She reached into the pocket of the
apron she always wore and handed me a pair of oven mitts. "Don't know why I
didn't think of this BEFORE."

Wearing the oven mitts (and wondering if I shouldn't be holding a whip and a
chair, too, like those lion tamers I'd seen on television at the circus), I
advanced toward the spot where the kitten had disappeared behind the pile of
boards. I crouched down to peer around the side--and there they were.

"Can you see them?" Hannah asked.

I nodded. "There's two."

"Only two?"

"That's all I can see."

I reached for one of the kittens, and once again it was like grabbing hold of a
tiger. The kitten clawed and bit and struggled--but this time to no avail, since
my hands were encased in the thick oven mitts.

Just then, the mother cat came in through open milkhouse door. "Chirp-meow," she
said. "Meow-meow-meow."

To my utter amazement, the other kitten promptly came out from behind the pile
of boards and went straight to its mother. In the meantime, the little spitfire
I was holding managed to free itself and then scampered to join its litter mate.

With the kittens following, the cat strolled over to Mrs. Paulson and rubbed
against her ankle. Although the babies weren't quite sure what to make of the
big, tall thing that walked on two legs, they weren't completely terrified,

Mrs. Paulson stood there for a long time, talking to the mother cat and petting
her. The kittens stayed a short distance away, watching Hannah's movements with
deep suspicion. When the youngsters concluded that their mother didn't appear to
be in immediate danger, however, they ventured a little closer. Eventually my
neighbor was able to reach over and pet the kittens for a few moments.

"I should have known they'd come to their momma," she whispered, looking over at
me and smiling.

After that, Hannah made sure the mother cat was there and then she'd bring some
cream for the kittens. In time they became as tame as if they'd been handled all

As for me, I was still just as eager to visit our neighbor but I hoped I'd never
have to try catching wild kittens again. Unless, of course, I remembered to
bring oven mitts the FIRST time around.