No one is more surprised that we are that our home is run by two cats. Neither of us had pets as children (I don’t count gerbils) and neither of us had any intention of acquiring one. After all, my husband was highly allergic to cats (or so we thought). Then came the immovable force. Our eleven year-old daughter developed cat-fever.
First came the cat books. Huge, glossy tomes full of pictures and information of every breed known to the feline world. Laurien seemed intent on memorizing every entry. When we told her we couldn’t possibly have a cat, she sublimated her thwarted love into working at an animal shelter. Week after week, we dropped her off at the shelter where she cleaned cages and cuddled furry kittens. She would chatter animatedly all the way home about this or that cuuuute kitten and sometimes get us to come inside to admire a particularly adorable litter. She was allowed to pick out names for mewling newborns. Dangerous stuff.
Her research expanded into allergy remedies. She left “helpful” articles around the house for her dad to peruse on the treatments to prevent and treat cat allergies. Then came the post-its. Positive affirmations were posted at eye-level – adult eye-level, I might add – that declaimed, “I will have a cat by December 31, 2001.” Still, we held firm.
Next came the stroke of genius, an argument so rational and reasonable that no adult could prevail for long. The animal shelter had a fostering program. The idea was that you would take a cat home in order to find it a home with a loving family. YOU weren’t committing to the furry friend; you were just helping. Laurien’s logic was flawless. Her dad could see if he had allergies while we did a good deed. Fissures opened in the foundation of parental resistance. Then cracks. Her dad was away on business when he called to tell her to go for it. The foundation had crumbled to bits.
Laurien and I went to the shelter to pick out a foster kitty. We were told that kittens weren’t on offer; they found homes too easily. We checked out the cat room. One cage was stacked on top of another, each holding a somnolent or glaring cat. Except one. One calico cat was putting on a top-hat and cane routine. “Pick me! Pick me! I’ll be fun! I’ll be loving!” We swallowed the bait.
While the paperwork was prepared (I didn’t have to fill out so much paperwork to bring my newborn daughter home from the hospital), the supervisor told us that poor kitty had been abandoned in an apartment when people moved. She was brought in by compassionate neighbors. No one knew her name or her age, but they thought that she was about a year old. “We’ve been calling her Mary Lou, but you can name her anything you like.”
On the way home, I asked Laurien what she wanted to name her “foster” cat. She replied, “Joy, because I’m soooooo happy!” When we called her dad with the news, he knew it was over. How could he possibly tell his daughter that she could no longer have Joy in her life? Of course, we adopted Joy. Fortunately, my husband has never exhibited the least sign of allergies to the cat he refers to as “Beast” but on whom he showers lots of attention.
Since then, Joy was joined by another shelter kitty, Zelda, a sleek-as-a-seal black cat with a white polka-dot on her breast. (She’s named after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s flighty wife, not the video game, much to the disappointment of my male students.) I thought overweight, somnolent Joy needed a friend. Joy didn’t agree, but she grudgingly allows Zelda to breathe and eat. They interrupt our sleep, damage our furniture (especially Zelda), and require special arrangements when we travel. Yet we wouldn’t part with either of them. That includes my husband, for all his anti-cat bluster.
The purpose of this long reminiscence is to introduce today’s expression, which was a new one for me: Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide (shah ay-show-day crahn low frwade). This literally means “Scalded cat fears cold water.” The English equivalent of this rather gruesome saying is “Once bitten, twice shy. That little nugget doesn’t seem to apply to cat adoption. One cat leads to two cats, why not three?
The French Cat