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A Stone's throw: Fur-thermore

 

Betty Stone

 

Recently I spent a few days in a city so cold my nose did not warm up for a week. In all that bitter chill I was surprised not to notice a single fur coat. I saw many of those puffy coats and jackets that are efficiently warming, but no fur that I recall. 

 

That started my wondering if we are undergoing some kind of significant social change. I hear rumors that on the west coast people who wear fur coats are frequently at risk of having vile things thrown at them as a protest against cruelty to animals. They are subjected to invectives such as, "It takes seven dumb animals to make a fur coat and only one to wear it." 

 

I have not worn a fur coat in decades, but not because of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. At least, not originally. I just think I look like a teddy bear in fur. For years my husband kept trying to buy a fur coat for me, but I always declined. Sadly, it was because of vanity, not kindness.  

 

There was once a day, however, when my motivations changed, at least subconsciously. It was years ago during a time of family anxiety. Doug's mother was very ill. We wished we could do something for her as effective as what we had done for our aging collie, Rebel. The veterinarian had recommended that we get him a cat, since cats fascinated him. 

 

About that time a sleek black cat with peridot eyes appeared, and we adopted it for Rebel. The cat looked so beautiful, regal and exotic that we named her for the ancient and exquisite Egyptian queen, Nefertiti. (I think she did actually add a year to Rebel's life.) 

 

Of course, shortly after arriving at our house, Nefertiti gave birth to kittens, four little bundles of gray fur that could not control whether jumping would send them backward or forward. They were a comforting diversion during a tense time. 

 

Nefertiti was a dedicated mother. She cleaned the kittens constantly. When we finally gave them their first taste of ground hamburger, dramatically they quit bouncing uncontrollably and began stalking through the houseplants like dangerous jungle felines. 

 

Rebel thought he had fathered them. They would lie on their backs within his crossed forelegs -- in his arms -- and play with his dog tags while he gazed adoringly at them. 

 

They were never dirty or messy. Nefertiti saw to that. Several times a day she would call them to her for another bath. The meow of a mother cat calling her kittens is a different sound altogether from the regular cat's meow. 

 

Of course we knew they could not stay with us, but we named them anyhow: Charlotte, Wilbur, Portia and Crybaby. (Guess what one of our favorite children's books was.) 

 

Six weeks passed, and it was time for the kittens to move on. Not just to any old place. As carefully as any adoption agency, we researched good homes for our darlings. When the dreadful day came, we tied big blue ribbons around their necks and took them to their new owners with detailed descriptions of their personalities. It hurt. 

 

By now you have realized that at least some of those in our household suffer acutely from the pathetic fallacy. Out pets become people. 

 

It was a time of sincere grief. We mourned with Nefertiti as she wandered through the house calling her babies with that unique meow. It would take a callused, tough-minded mother not to empathize with her. 

 

One day during that time our daughter Diana called from school. They were planning a pep rally that afternoon with a 1950s theme. Would I please gather up some of my old '50s clothes and lay them on my bed, so that she could run home at noon and select some for the pep rally? 

 

I did so. Among my relics was one of those four-skin mink scarves, the kind where the mouth of one mink bites the tail of another until it will wrap around your shoulders. (When I graduated from MSCW, you would be ashamed to go to your first homecoming as an alumna without having acquired your mink scarf.) 

 

When I had the clothes laid out on the bed, Diana called back. They had found some 1950s cheerleader uniforms and would not need my clothes after all. So she did not come to pick them up. 

 

But Nefertiti did. She walked into our bedroom, still calling her kittens, and jumped upon our bed, where the animal scarf lay. She hissed and humped her back. You could almost see her thinking as she carefully pawed the minks. "Four fur skins? Four animals? Four kittens? My babies!" 

 

She grabbed the skins and began lovingly to bathe them. 

 

I never wore fur again.

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.

 

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