My mother was left with three cats in the family home when my youngest sister Miriam left to do her great O.E. She didn’t come back until the fifth year when she was finally caught working without a permit and deported from England. She had never considered how my mother would manage with three cats to look after. Only one belonged to my mother. Later, another sister told Mum, “Enough is enough!” and with the cost of vets and cat-food, the cats had to go. Mum reluctantly agreed.
Her goal of finding suitable homes for three cats proved more difficult than anticipated. No one wanted them or knew of anyone who wanted them. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explained that any cats who were antisocial and deemed unsuitable for a family couldn't be rehomed. At this time, only the cutest kittens had a chance. They advised euthanasia as the merciful course to be paid for by the owner.
My mother hated the thought of having three healthy cats killed. She had to admit her own cat was the first one to consider. Elderly Bubbles didn’t like the grandchildren at all. Not a likely candidate for adoption. Thomas the brother of the third would go AWOL when visitors arrived and remain so until they left. Definitely not a candidate for a new owner let alone a family.
Last of all, Charlie, the darling baby of my youngest sister. Such a loving intelligent cat. Handsome too, with his clearly defined light grey and darker grey stripes and white tummy. A new family would have to be found for him. My tender-hearted mother couldn’t match my youngest sister's extreme feelings about animals. She knew Miriam would never forgive the family if Charlie was put down. My mother consoled herself that she may be forgiven for the murder of two cats if Charlie could be settled in a new home.
My mother cried for days after my other sister took away two cats and arranged for a friend to put them out of their misery at no cost. She was appalled cat number three remained. The presence of Charlie comforted my mother, though his eyes accused her.
He aimlessly crept around as if he sensed all was not well. No longer could he engage with his brother in their daily rough and tumble games. He wandered on padded feet through the house seeming to look for Thomas. Life for him could never be the same. Only one food bowl out. No others for him to lick at their last tasty morsels. He looked up at my mother and mewed pathetically.
She convinced herself he was unhappy and was telling her he wanted them found.
“You miss them, don’t you? Even if I could tell you what I’ve done, you would never understand why.” She picked him up to cuddle him. He nuzzled her and purred as if offering forgiveness. Such an affectionate feline.
My mother phoned me about the problem. I live far away and though sympathetic was not in a position to fly there and pick up a cat.
“But you have to agree. Aren’t you already a virtual cattery for orphaned cats? You do prefer grown cats to kittens. You only have two at the moment. I know you can afford to feed and care for three cats. The only problem is how to get Charlie down to you.”
While still pondering how to solve the cat transportation problem my Uncle Eddie arrived to visit my Mum. My Uncle Eddie Groenendyk was a millionaire. I say ‘was’ not because he lost his fortune but because he died. This story happened while he lived.
Within a week he wanted to travel down to visit his other niece, me. He organized their flights and paid for them. My mother loaned a cat cage from the neighbor, as she planned to take Charlie with her.
“Why on earth do we have to take a cat on holiday with us? Are you crazy?” he demanded, as if he thought my mother was a complete imbecile. She didn’t try to explain about her tight budget, or how much pressure another niece and nephew of his were putting on her to become cat free, or her determination to procure a new home for Charlie. He could never understand. He eventually agreed to take the cat along.
“Oh, thank you for that. You have saved this cat’s life.”
He shook his head in disbelief.
So, Charlie went on his own OE. Provided he fitted in with his new family he would not require deportation or extermination.
My sister Miriam said, on hearing where her cat had gone to live, “Poor Charlie, with all those children!”
The amazing truth is that Charlie walked groggily out of his cat cage, where he had been sedated during the flight, just as if he owned the place. Our other two cats immediately accepted him. Our male cat, Smokey, looked nothing like Thomas, Charlie’s brother. Yet the two of them became like brothers and play fought just as Charlie and Thomas had always done. That part seemed stranger than fiction.
We concluded that cats know better how to recognize a home than some humans. But what home are we talking about . . . If Miriam knew this may have been her biggest complaint.
The House of Van Severen or “Room Service, Please.”
What is “the house of Van Severen”? I did some research. An internationally known Netherlands/Belgian man called Van Severen, became a famous architect and furniture designer. One of his sons Haans carries on the legacy by designing and selling homewares throughout Europe and the United States. I mean no disrespect but the phrase above has negative connotations. I know this due to something shameful which happened in my life.
Maybe the phrase is about the home-life of Van Severen. Imagine a gifted architect and designer making a name for himself, while making a living. Using the idea that a repair man fixes everyone’s things but his own, one imagines Van Severen’s home full of half-finished furniture while others’ tentative plans are completed and paid for. He is in hot demand to fulfill others dreams. Maybe, Van Severen’s home life became synonymous with chaos and disrepair in contrast with his famous life’s work.
At the time, I imagined a scene out of a Charles Dickin’s novel. Or a picture by famous artist, Anton Pieck, with his depiction of the custom after a person’s death. A huge pile of household possessions out on the street with grandma still in the rocking chair. The custom is that all the nearest and dearest take from the house what they have been promised or want. Sometimes the next step takes place before the whole family have made their covetous grab. The first few drag the remaining contents of the house outside and place them in a huge pile for neighbors and passersby to carry away. I can imagine a sky-high proliferation of furniture outside the home of Van Severen.
When Uncle Eddie came from England to visit my Mother, who lives in the Southern Hemisphere, down under (New Zealand), my mother, who accompanied him, booked them both into a motel down the road from our home. We knew accommodation at our humble abode would be beneath him but we doubted my mother’s choice would be acceptable. He expected to be booked into a five-star hotel.
I had huge concern over the impending visit of Uncle Eddie. My husband, a keen man, better at pulling things apart than getting them together again, was renovating (totally dismantling) our lounge. Please note, Uncle Eddie would send his wife and children to their holiday home in Spain, when he assigned even basic renovations to be done in their palatial mansion. This, despite the fact that they could have simply chosen a different part of it to live in.
My husband had just removed the lath and plaster ceiling of the lounge. For a time, we were literally knee-to-neck-deep in removing the debris. As usual, the job took weeks longer than anticipated.
The enshrouded room was dressed as a ghost for Halloween. Every exit and entrance of it draped with sheets to prevent plaster dust from escaping. This had proved unsuccessful. The open-plan design meant we had to pad through the dust covered floor to access the stairs and two downstairs bedrooms. All floors, leading to and from, sported white footprints which proved difficult to clean. Where glimmers of light shone in, we could see and taste the floating particles. Every room off it had fine layers of dust on each surface, thickest near the hanging sheets. The children, their fingers attracted like magnets to the talc like layers, delighted in writing messages therein. Above, a corrugated iron roof and cobwebby rafters overshadowed the dimness. It was a stretch to imagine the ceiling insulated and finished with beautifully stained tongue and groove timber. If a blindfolded individual had been disorientated, brought in, and finally had their eyes uncovered, they would believe the house uninhabited and uninhabitable. They would fear being tied in a chair and tortured in this room of a derelict house where their secrets would be extracted in horrifying ways, no one hearing their screams for help.
Our lounge room furniture had been stacked to the ceiling of the entrance way just off our unrecognizable lounge making our front door inaccessible from both sides. Thankfully, we had a back door.
The last wheelbarrow of plaster and dust had been hurriedly removed and the floor vacuumed but when we looked at the time, our hearts sank. We could never get to the airport in time to meet my Uncle and Mother. Neither could we contact them with reassurance we were on our way.
We were worried Uncle Eddie would simply hail a taxi if we were not at the airport to meet them. Our last instruction to five children of various ages was if Oma (Grandma) and Uncle Eddie arrived, to make them walk down the long driveway to the back of the house. To not open the front door under any circumstances.
After arriving at the airport, searching, and concluding this had indeed happened within ten minutes of our initial arrival, we returned home, dreading the disgust of our visitors. This however was the least of our crimes.
My mother was apoplectic at the cost of the taxi. Uncle Eddie flatly refused to go to the back door. He demanded the front door be opened. The children obediently moved the furniture away from the door to allow their Oma, Uncle Eddie, a cat cage and several items of baggage, to enter. Our important visitors pushed past piled up furniture, struggled through a wide door way of hanging sheets, over a dusty wooden floor, through another swath of sheets and through a dark narrow hallway set up as our temporary lounge and TV room, if this is even possible. All of it accompanied by “OMG, the house of Van Severen!” and other less desirable expletives. Finally, they entered the kitchen and living area which, though shabby compared to Uncle Eddie’s standards, would have seemed like an oasis of sanity compared to the horror he had experienced thus far.
They were graciously served afternoon tea though I believe Uncle Eddie would have preferred a stiff whiskey. It never dawned on him this was the house where his sister intended Charlie cat to live.
On our arrival we felt mortified that the front entrance had been used. We found everyone in various states of shock. My mother could not believe we let them down at the airport or the horrendously priced taxi fare paid by impatient Uncle Eddie. The children are upset they couldn’t convince Uncle Eddie to use the back door. My Uncle is less shocked at the state of our home than over my DIY (Do it yourself) husband who is subjecting the family to such appalling living conditions.
To this day I do not know how Uncle Eddie really felt about my husband. I am not sure if the chain of events leading him to enter by the front door instead of the back was actually worth the outcome. My mother was appalled my husband said, “Thank you for that,” to Uncle Eddie’s kind offer. Uncle Eddie offered thousands to help get our house livable.
My mother believed my husband should be too proud to accept assistance and didn’t speak to him for a long time afterwards. Uncle Eddie was so appalled with my husband forcing us to live in such a state and feared he would use the funds on his vehicles instead so he paid the money to my brother to pay for our needed renovations. These parts of the sorry pantomime were the least of my concern. I believe the end justified the means.
By the time dear Uncle Eddie went to his rustic accommodation down the road we are convinced of his relief though, it is a fact, he sat down at the Motel and said,
“Where is the Room Service?”