Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Cat

Photograph by Tomer Kori
When I was 15, my father retired from the army and the family moved to Richmond, Virginia. It was a bit of a culture shock after living in Germany and France, and entering a high school where everyone had known each other since the first grade was a bit daunting.  Still, I'd been "the new girl" at nine other schools by that time, so after the usual period of adjustment, I settled into a routine.
 Living on an army post is a lot like living in a small town. (Both my grandmothers lived in REALLY small towns, so I know what I'm talking about.) And while Richmond is not a small town, it still had a small-town sensibility in those days, which was both good and bad. The first October 31st we lived there was crisp and cold and there was a full moon with scudding clouds that crossed it every once in awhile. Perfect Halloween weather. (Here in Los Angeles, October is often hot. In fact, a couple of years ago, we had triple digit weather the whole month. THE WHOLE MONTH.)

I was too old to go trick or treating myself. Halloween had not yet turned into the second biggest holiday of the year and anyway, at 15, I had an acute case of wanting to be a grown-up. But my little sister was 7 and I got the duty of taking her door-to-door for sugary swag. And the first house we hit was directly across the street from us. The house belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie.  Mr. Ritchie had a cat (and it was most definitely HIS cat) that doted on him. I don't think I've ever seen a feline/human connection that intense. I can't remember the cat's name, but he was a long-haired orange tabby about the size of a fox. He was beautiful and friendly and floppy. Instead of handing out candy, Mr. Ritchie invited all the trick or treaters inside, where the cat was draped across the big color TV in the living room. And there, we were treated to cups of hot spiced cider and cinnamon cake donuts.
Can you imagine that happening now?  Even in a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone?
Mr. Ritchie died that winter, so it never happened again. His big orange cat died two weeks later, after refusing to eat or drink. His death broke everyone's heart. Mrs. Ritchie became a recluse--she'd never been the most social woman--and the whole neighborhood gossiped about what the delivery guys from the local pharmacy might have in the paper bags they left off almost daily. (It wasn't booze. At the time, in Virginia, you could only buy liquor at ABC stores.)  The gossip was such a small-town thing, and that was the flip side of Richmond being a place where little old men could invite kids in for cider and donuts without anyone wondering if he was a child molester.
I am not a particularly nostalgic person, but that Halloween when I was 15 is the best Halloween I've ever had.

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