Forever Four

I woke up four years old on a gorgeous June day alive with bird songs, and hollyhocks brushing the bottom of my window. I scampered out to the end of the sidewalk in the garden to meet Mom and Dad coming up the lane from the milking parlour on one of their Ford Fergusons to fix breakfast. “Good morning four year old!” called Mom from atop a fender. It was a most special day.

As we were eating breakfast, I remember them saying that I’d likely not remember a bit of the day when I got older, in spite of how very important it was to be four years old. What was I to do?

After breakfast I went outside and played amongst the snapdragons for a while. Suddenly I knew. I would perform a ritual that I would remember forever, or at least for as long as I would be able to. I ran to the rusty round bin we used for chicken feed and climbed half way up the ladder which was leaning against it. I paused, listening to the purple martins and the meadowlarks. Then I waved my leg in the air off the side of the ladder four deliberate times, one for each of my years. 

I do remember a much earlier sunny day. Perhaps I was two. I had my black and white teddy bear, wandering amongst honey bees tending the red clover, along the ditch of the South Road, a half mile away from the house.

 Mom heard a loon cry at the pond and thought it was me, so when the old black ’40 Ford which pinched the holy shit out of my finger suddenly stopped across the ditch, she boiled out in her apron with a face like a hornet and swept me off my feet with a hug.

So what happened when your memory came alive? Please let us know.


Tom Phipps

Zip the Cat

We used to live at the end of a long wooded lane between farms in Western Kentucky. Last fall, I returned home utterly exhausted from a day of teaching to find an unfamiliar cat waiting for me to get out of the car. When I came back out to go for a nice jog down the lane, I was surprised to find the cat trotting dutifully alongside me. “Well now, I’ve never seen the like,” I said to Carol as I peered out the screen door at the cat waiting patiently on the porch. I grew up with feral cats that showed up endlessly to live between the bales of hay in our barns and to drink the milk strippings which we poured into a pan for them on the milking parlour floor. They cleaned up the milk, kept down the mice and killed an endless succession of meadowlarks, brown thrashers, orchard orioles and cardinals. Nobody ever kept a cat in the house in my neck of the woods.

Carol was keenly interested in this cat on the porch. She had once raised hoity-toity pedigreed cats, Persian show cats actually, which she gave up in order to live with our parrot, our raven and me. She was impressed with the cat’s looks: a brindled grey with attractive splashes of white and hints of orange calico fur which was luxuriantly thick and silky, rivaling her best dressed Persians. When we went for our walk, the cat tagged right along. The next time we went to town, we bought a sack of feed. And by then, we were calling her Zip. Soon we determined that she was a Siberian Forest Cat.

Zip was a husky, able cat. She spent a lot of time in the trees ’round about, catching and eating squirrels. She also ate rabbits. And she was always on the roof of the house. I even found myself disappointed on the rare occasions that she was not around for our run. One day, I had to dash out of the kitchen to catch her when she was about to fall out of a rotted hole under the eaves. “Why, she’s pregnant,” said Carol. We fixed her a box with rags in a room all to herself in the back of the house away from the birds. This last spring, when I quit teaching for good to join Carol writing full time, we moved back to the family farm in Illinois and brought Zip and her kittens with us. When her kittens were getting big and still pestering her to nurse, she began deliberately losing them when we would go on walks. Shortly thereafter she vanished for good. I’m convinced that nothing got her. We found no carcass. Nor did we find her smashed on the road. So my question is, did Zip wean her kittens by taking off and having a new litter somewhere else, or did someone who knew the going rate for such animals see her and pick her up? Please let us know what you think. Tom Phipps