The first great snowstorm of winter brought fierce winds and a chill that pierced to the bone. When I went out to bring in some firewood early in the evening, a calico cat came running out of the swirling , stinging whiteness, miaowing desperately . She headed right for the door and slipped in as soon as I opened it for her, obviously quite used to people and confident of her welcome despite the hard life she must have been leading recently. She was thin and slightly ragged looking, very hungry and quite vocal until I gave her some cold chicken, which she ate while purring loudly. She settled comfortably in front of the stove, with her paws neatly folded under her chest and a definite air of permanence about her. My thoughts were that she was probably a town cat brought out by someone and dumped in the countryside to fend for herself, as seems to happen fairly often.
Within an hour she had earned her keep by catching one of the mice which had been running all over the house, nibbling any food left open and leaving their droppings everywhere. She ate all of it, no fuss, no mess, and I decided she could definitely stay.
Late that same night when I opened the kitchen door to marvel at how high the snow had drifted in a few hours, there was a half-grown black and white kitten crouched there. Quiet and still except for shivering, she passively allowed me to pick her up and bring her inside, where she eagerly accepted the last of that cold chicken. The two cats knew each other , and the younger one tried to nurse, but was sharply rebuffed, so the relationship was obvious. Naturally I slogged around in the snow for a while, trying to see if there were any others around, but found nothing but bare snow and dark shadows.
Both cats spent the winter inside, using the litter box , catching mice and keeping me company. Neither wanted to venture outside for any reason, it seemed, until the snow melted and the muddy ground dried out a little, when both sat and enjoyed the spring sun with me.
The younger cat was long and lean , with big paws , and markings that reminded me of Sylvester, the comic book enemy of Tweety Bird, so she was Sylvia. Her mother was more compactly built, with tiny neat paws and a much more restrained manner,. I named her Rose, but mostly she was known as Sylvia’s Mother . Sylvia climbed everywhere and got into everything, knocking sugar bowls and chess pieces to the floor, crouching on top of the fish tank with one paw hanging hopefully down into the water until I put a cover over it, and finding mice in the most unlikely places.
One day when the birds were busy everywhere and the grass was sprouting new and green, Rose went for a walk somewhere and never came back , though I left a window open for her for weeks. Sylvia stayed with me, pregnant with her first litter before I ‘d realised she was old enough. She had six , all of whom went to homes happy to receive them, and was pregnant again before her second visit to the vet, when of course I had intended to get her “ fixed “. She had by now matured into quite a large and athletic cat, sleek and soft furred, prone to sudden outbursts of unsolicited purring and addicted to tummy rubs. She was also quite an ambitous hunter , and several times brought back rabbits for her kittens.
One evening that fall I was bumbling around in the kitchen with the four babies of her second litter tumbling and wrestling around my feet. Suddenly there was a loud pained squeal as I stepped on a tiny tail, and instantly Sylvia was there in bristling fury. Her yellow eyes glared into every corner , searching for the threat, ready to rip apart anything that dared touch her children, radiating pure fury and aggression as every hair stood on end and her claws dug into the floor. Quickly she checked to see if everyone was present and unharmed, first one kitten got a sniff and a lick, then the next, then me and then the fifth of her charges, the fourth kitten. I felt in rapid succesion, fear of this feral beast, then relief that she discounted me as a threat, and finally honour and gratitude that she counted me as a kitten