Sunday, January 19, 2014

a pea picklin’ california diary: cousins elliott and frankie, heat, a horse, the orphan train

So I’m sitting here working on the Orphan Train Letters and behind me I hear a little squeak. Elliott just came in. I get up and see he’s got a little mouse. Brought in a little mouse. Now he’s eating it on the little rug in the little kitchen. Crunch crunch. It’s gone. It took Elliott only ten days to get the lay of the land here in California, to figure out the 24-hour-in-and-out kitty door in the wall of the laundry room, to get slapped around by his cousin Frankie and to slap around his cousin Frankie in return, to start hunting and chawing down mousies in 30 seconds flat. Yippee.

Why is life so slippery?

Today Frankie must go to the vet. He has been wounded, on his neck, it abscessed and burst. We all know who is responsible. Having gotten the lay of the land, Elliott has appointed himself king of the land. He lolls around by the kitty door, waiting for one cousin Frankie to come or to go—daring one cousin Frankie to come or to go. He then spends time in this chair or that chair, on this cushion or that cushion, trying every spot, testing for every comfort, examining every view. He has secured every vantage point for spying on Frankie as Frankie passes by a window, scurries past a door, appears around a corner.

And now Frankie must go the vet.

A cousin Frankie collage by nephew Lucas.

Frankie is one tough cookie of a cat, but he is also sweet and shy. He came in from the wilds a few years back, slowly but surely, and has put up with many cats, but refuses to mess with dogs. Between him and Elliott there have been moments of peaceful proximity, but there have also been moments of war. In war, they become one tight ball rolling through garden dust or across living room floor in a turmoil of yowl. Fur does indeed fly. Frankie executed the first pounce days ago, a beautiful flying leap that landed him square atop Elliott; now it is Elliott stalking Frankie around the house, down the walkway, into the garden. In quieter but perhaps no less contentious moments, Frankie steals food from Elliott’s bowl and Elliott steals food from Frankie’s bowl.

That’s my boy.

Just another rockin’ fine spot for Elliott.

Slept lightly as a feather on the dry nose of a dog. Perhaps it was the brightness of the full moon. Or the warmth. Or the horse in the yard next door knocking about, letting go with a bbbbhhhhhrrrrrr every now and then. There must be a name for that noise a horse makes, that exaggerated exhale through lightly pursed lips.

According to (oh, the places we go!), it is called “The Snort” and is the result of the horse exhaling through his nose with mouth shut, the noise actually coming from vibrating nostrils. I could have sworn it was the lips that were vibrating—that’s the way it looks in all the cartoons, anyway. It says the snort is about potential danger, the key word being potential, I’m sure.

The sun rises about an hour and a half earlier here than at home. Here, at this time of year, the sun is up about seven while at home it is not up until about eight-thirty or so. Sunset times are about the same—five-thirty at home, a little after five here. Here there is sun all day long on these longer days, with no relief in sight. At home those shorter days are, for the most part, cloudy and snowy, with little relief in sight.

Every morning by eight-thirty, outside my window, the drone of buzzing bees.

I may have missed January’s historic cold, but I am not missing its historic heat. Here along the coast in southern Cal, it is shaping up to be the hottest and driest January ever, or at least that people can remember, and on last night’s local TV news the weatherman said that this weather is “starting to blow my mind.” An anchorman agreed: his mind is beginning to blow, too. It is very dry—right now the relative humidity is 15 percent, the same as in the Mojave Desert—and the Los Angeles Times, in a story about water, said something about this weather being “monotonously sunny.”

It all made for a nice afternoon at the beach.

Yesterday I asked my mom if she remembered the orphan train story, and she said no, she did not. It’s a long story, both in itself and how it came to be known, so I told my mother just pieces of it, including how she had first come to hear of an orphan train, how she learned years after her mother had died that her mother had been an orphan train rider. I told my mom how she then ferreted out the details of the story, the rest of the story, as it were, including how in 1895 her mother, then a nine-year-old girl, was put on an orphan train in New York City and that is how she came to live in Iowa. I told her how before the orphan train her mother was Fannie Shapiro, and how after she became Daisy Morris. I told her about the letter she received in 1997 that told much of this story about Daisy and her brother Joe, otherwise known as Sussman Shapiro, and how these two had started life in Russia with the last name Saladuchow, and how that name was changed, upon arrival in America, to Shapiro.

My mother said the story sounded interesting and asked to see some of the material I have, the letters and pictures that are all we have, really, to tell this tale.

So many times I have tried writing the orphan train story, and every time it is a struggle of perspective, structure, and it comes to a screeching halt with the one big question—whose story is it, anyway? Now that my mother has, quite simply, lost her memory of it, well, now, all I know is that that is part of the story, too.

Should report that Frankie is fine, though laying a bit low. His trip to the vet got him caught up on some overdue shots, so one might say that cousin Elliott did him a favor.

Or not.

1 comment:

  1. Oh dear, I hope Elliott hasn't worn out his welcome! I think I could deal with monotonous sunshine - the heat, not so much. ~ P