Monday, June 11, 2018

The story of Figaro - written 1984

An Event that occurs early in a person’s life often helps to explain an emphasis or theme in their lifestyle. This is the story of the cat that brought the magic of feline companionship into my life.

On Sundays if my sister and I were lucky, we visited Grandpa’s house. He lived in a typical New Jersey urban dwelling, back to back with similar homes and a small backyard almost entirely devoted to a flourishing semitropical garden.

My grandfather, who always had a twinkle in his eye, called me over to his garden one day. “Come here, there’s something I want to show you.” I followed him into the back of his garden. He stopped and told me to be very quiet. There beyond the fence at the rear of his garden I could see a whole litter of tiny kittens frolicking and chasing each other. I was thrilled. I had always loved kittens, like any self-respecting 7 year old. My family had had cats on and off throughout my young life. “Want one?” asked my grandfather, suppressing a chuckle. My eyes were as big as saucers and when I answered with a big “yessss!” the kittens all scampered and hid underneath a pile of wood.

“How will we catch one?”I asked tremulously. I already knew how fast they could run. Grandpa, a man of few words said “come!” and we crept up to the fence. He leaned over and slowly removed the top branches of the woodpile which was right on the other side of the fence. Finally a furry mass of kittens could be seen in the middle of the woodpile. They were all grey tabbies, huddled so tightly together that I could not tell where one kitten ended and the next began. My grandfather picked me up so I could reach all the way down and pull out a kitten. I grabbed the rump end of a screaming squalling ball of fur into a box which my grandpa had conveniently placed near the fence.

I was in heaven as my father took us home that night. I carried the box on my lap ever so carefully. Once safely home, we cautiously opened the box. To my surprise, instead of a wildcat there was this tiny frightened kitten huddled in the corner of the box. He had a pink nose and a white muzzle and 4 perfect little white booties. I named him Figaro which I felt was a perfect name for such a marvelous creature. (Later he developed a liking for a new brand of cat food that just happened to have the same name!)

My mother instructed me to fill a newpaper-lined box with dirt. Figaro used it that night and never had an accident in his entire life.

Figaro grew and grew. He was never an exceptionally friendly cat and did not like to be held. Not having been handled in his infancy, he had never entirely bonded to humans. He was loyal and responsive to me though, and was so aware of my feelings that he would suddenly become lovable when he found me crying in my bed.

In those days cats roamed freely outside and neutering was not even considered for male cats. We were quite poor and in our neighborhood, mice were a real problem. Figaro became such a good mouser that my mother would actually loan him out to friends in need; Figaro always got his mouse.

At maturity, Figaro spanned 36 inches from nose to tail tip and weighed 12 pounds. One of his most memorable tricks was his method of procuring treats. He’d stand on his hind legs and impatiently scratch the metal table top until we gave him some of our dinner. His favorite food was shrimp and he would perform for anyone. A sure way to fetch him would be to break an egg. At the sound he would dash into the kitchen from anywhere. He was an aggressive fighter, constantly coming home with new battle scars. One day he showed up with a bloody ear that remained stiff for the rest of his life.

Some years passed and mother decided we should get out of New Jersey . It was time to move to California and seek our fortune there. Since she had never appreciated Figaro’s growly disposition or his frequent abscesses that usually drained on her nice dining room chairs, our mother decided to leave him behind. We would give him a good “country” home. A friend, Mrs Brown, already had a cat and a dog, and didn’t mind taking care of Figaro. So one day we left him at her house in Lake Hiawatha.

Soon after we left my beloved cat behind, his new owner wrote to say that he was dead. That was the end, and I grieved this loss for a long time. We stayed in California from June until November but when things did not work out, mother got her old job back and we returned to Lake Hiawatha, about 2 miles from Mrs. Brown’s.

The following spring, I came home from school and was wandering around the house. Like most normal teenagers, I gravitated to the bathroom to take residence there. For no particular reason, I climbed up on top of the toilet seat and stood there, looking out the window. To my surprise, directly in front of me about 60 feet away I could see a large grey tabby walking through a neighbor’s yard. I called out “FIGARO!!” and the cat looked up at me!

Laughing and crying, I flew down the stairs and ran out the door and up to where I had seen him. I called him softly and he warily approached me. It WAS Figaro. He looked terrible, his coat was dull and he was quite thin. I kept coaxing him until I was close enough to grab him. He didn’t fight. He growled softly as I carried him back to the house, but he never struggled. I put him into a walk-in closet with food and water and sat there with him - - overjoyed at my long lost friend’s return.

Mother came home later and couldn’t believe it was the same cat. But look here, his paralyzed ear, and here, this scar. She finally became convinced when he reacted to an egg being cracked in the kitchen when he came running just as he had always done, mother was in tears. Mrs Brown finally admitted that Figaro had run away the first day she had him and had not returned.

Mother had brought a little black Persian from California. Now that we had two male cats, she took them both to the vet to be neutered, so they would not fight. At the same time the veterinarian gave us some medication for an infection in Figaro’s mouth.

Of course I favored Figaro and personally fed him daily, canned cat food with an egg on the top. Since our reunion, he did not like to stay in the house (probably because of the competition) so I gave him what affection I could at feeding time or out on the porch where he liked to bask in the sun. Figaro lived for about a year after his return. He gradually developed a ravenous appetite (and I fed him more) but he finally died one night from what in retrospect, I believe was the result of a severe worm infestation – probably heart failure. In our total ignorance, we had not wormed him in years or even suspected that he might be wormy. (Nor did the veterinarian!) I found him curled up in his bed on the porch, he had obviously died very peacefully.

Almost 20 years later, I am crying as I write this. Poor Figaro suffered needlessly because of our ignorance. Sometimes knowledge comes to us at great cost. I will always be indebted to this great cat and will continually be repaying his memory with care for my present and future cats and keeping myself and others informed about cat care.

Written circa 1984 by Mimi Torchia Boothby

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Writing a memoir

I can remember when my sons were in high school, one of them told me that he was the only one of his friends who had a sit down dinner with his whole family almost every night of the week. It was about that time that we realized that had something special. It honestly surprised me, because we had been through so much already, we had had a really rocky marriage.

When I married my husband in 1978, if my parents had actually been present, they probably would have strongly advised against our tying the knot. As it turned out, 3 months after we started dating, we got married and neither of my parents were present for the ceremony. His parents came, and honestly, if I had known them prior to that day, I am not sure that I would have married him!

We were married for almost 35 years, and after a really chaotic first ten years, our relationship started to get better. We learned how to live together and work together. After the kids left home, we started focusing on each other, and by and by, we noticed that we had become a role model for other couples. We really did have something special. We used to talk about maybe we ought to write a book on relationships. My husband, who was in a twelve step program, and sponsored many men through recovery, gave them a lot of advice about relationships. Of course his advice was based on what we had done ourselves. At this point, he wrote "Advice from Donald on Relationships." I loved it and saved it carefully (it is in our book).

In 2011, my husband was diagnosed with a really nasty form of cancer. Suddenly, those dreams we had of growing old together vaporized like so many soap bubbles. And we lived each day together with even more realization of how precious each one was.

One day while my husband was in the hospital fighting for his life, we decided that we needed to write this book. I wrote the first chapter and showed it to him. He loved it and wrote the second, it was his response to what I wrote. We did it in a "he says she says" format. Armed with his laptop, he composed and printed out rough drafts for my sons to proof read. Starting from our youth, and finishing with our mature relationship the book quickly fleshed out, we added photos and put it in a blog format just to keep it safe. As his fight for life got more intense, the book was put aside. After he died I forgot the book for a while, caught up in grief. But then one sunny day I remembered, and finished my part of it.

What we wrote is a testimony to our love, an autobiography and memoir of our marriage. I believe that someone reading it can learn from it and maybe improve their own relationships. I changed almost nothing that he wrote, because I wanted to preserve his style. I used Lulu as my publisher and even got an ISBN number. If I wanted to jump through a certain number of hoops, I could sell it on Amazon, but I have not done that yet. I know this book will never make the best seller list, but my children and close friends have this memento, a little piece of history. I know that if I ever have grandchildren, this will be required reading, because it will be a way to acquaint them with the wonderful grandfather they never met. All in all, it was a good experience and I recommend it.

Our book - The other side of love
my blog Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors
Donald's Blog The Boothby Chronicles

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Adventure in Chiapas, Mexico

My new husband, Dale and I were invited to visit his friend Jeremy who lives in San Cristobal de las casas in Chiapas, Mexico.  We flew down there in the spring of 2017, where we booked a nice little bed and breakfast close to town.  We actually had a little trouble meeting up with Jeremy, but we were having such a wonderful time that it didn't matter.  Jeremy wanted us to go with him to see his mine, which was on  a farm somewhere near Palenque.  We would rent a cab, which was indeed inexpensive, and stay over night and come back the next day.
There were several delays, but we finally met Jeremy in the late morning, with an affable cab driver ready to get us all the way down to the jungle.  The ride was 200 kilometers and it would take 4 hours. I didn't believe them at first. The first leg of the trip was really gorgeous and we were moving pretty fast. But soon, we were driving much slower, because there were topes everywhere. Topes are speed bumps that locals put in to slow cars down. They are nothing like speed bumps that you might find in the USA, because they are handmade. And they break, and sometimes leave holes. So the trip really did take an exhausting 4 hours. Apparently there are about 200 topes on that route.
Jeremy, Dale and I were to stay overnight at a beautiful resort called Misol Ha.

Before we went to bed, Jeremy warned us about howler monkeys, which would pierce the night with their strange calls. I laughed it off and went to our cabin where the man who led us to our room lit the water heater. Since we had gone from 7000 feet of elevation to sea level, it was now hot and muggy, so Dale was ready to shower. There was no light in the bathroom, so I opted for a sponge bath and jumped under the bedsheet to wait for him.  He discovered there was also no hot water, so he took his cold shower in the dark and came back out to discover there was something very large flying around in our room. It was a bat as large as a squirrel.  I bravely waited under the sheet while my naked husband escorted that very smart bat out the door. We marveled at the encounter and finally went to sleep.

Howler Monkey Sounds

Right about 3 am we heard this horrible sound. It is what I have imagined zombies might sound like. It didn't sound like any animal I have ever heard. They sounded like they were right above us in the trees.  But at daylight, they were gone and everything looked safe and innocent.

We ate a great breakfast and said goodbye to Jeremy, who still had not gotten in touch with his brother Tommy who was working at the farm. After breakfast, we toured the grounds and I found a nice place to sit and paint. While I painted, Dale walked around the waterfalls. It was really lovely. We went back to the restaurant for lunch and were just getting ready to order food when Jeremy showed up and instructed us to take a cab to Palenque where we could see the pyramids while he got business taken care of.  He had a ride waiting, so we rushed off and were dropped off at the entrance of the resort, where we were then to wait for "a cab."  What we actually rode in was the back of a pickup with hard benches and a canvas canopy.

 And it flew down the very bumpy road. We were having a great time, it was really something. There was a young couple on the truck with us, they were native to the area and very sweet it was so noisy and bumpy back there that all we could exchange were giggles.  Soon enough we were dropped at a crossroads in the town of Palenque where we would then catch another cab which would take us into the park. That was not to be, there was a huge international bike race that day which had commandeered the park and it was closed to visitors like us.  We joined a crowd of tourists, who were trying to get rides to other places. A cab stopped and offered us a ride at more than ten times the price we'd paid to get all the way down there the day before. So we passed.  Some Europeans decided to help us, we could pool and get a cab together. Just then,  a small pickup pulled up with some locals inside.  Our new friends were saying, no, no don't go with them, while Dale had just recognized Tommy,  Jeremy's brother, who happened to be in that truck. So we jumped into the truck, SAVED, and met Don Armando, Tommy, and a young relative of Don Armando. Tommy assured us they had caught some bushmeat which we would be eating later.. yum?

We drove for about an hour, and turned off the highway to this peaceful settlement with gravel roads, animals, and modest houses.

 We arrived at Don Armando's place, met some people, including a Korean partner, and were led through cow pastures to a field while the Korean guy rode a nice little stallion, to see the mine.

 The mine was a big pond in a bog, totally unimpressive to me.  The mining equipment was this huge tractor thing which wasn't apparently running.  So after a bit of this, we went back to the house, and Jeremy announced that they were going to have a 15 minute meeting, after which we could get back to civilization. We sat on a cement patio with naked kids, chickens and skinny immobile dogs.  It was in the shade, and the sun was hot. so we sat there.

I  asked to see the bush meat, and was led to a refrigerator with a huge bowl. Inside the bowl were these cat-sized creatures which were apparently shaved, with greenish skin. I saw their heads and I can't tell you what they were! but they were NOT something I wanted to eat, really. We were offered pieces of watermelon. I was starved, but was afraid of what might happen to me if I ate too much watermelon, so I only had a couple small pieces, still expecting dinner of some sort. I was hungry and wasn't feeling all that great. When I finally had to go to the toilet, I chose the one that said "DAMAS."  Upon entering, I discovered that it was occupied by a turkey hen sitting on her eggs.  I managed to not get bitten, but she warned me. When I came out, they told me it was the wrong bathroom. And I sullied their water by putting my hands into it. I felt like an idiot, because I didn't know the rules. It was clear to me that the residents wished we would leave so they could relax. The meeting went on and on and on. Finally, the men came back out and Jeremy told us they'd take us back to Misol Ha resort, where we would find a taxi to get us back home.

Dropped off on the side of the highway once again, standing in the sun, I wondered how many hours it would take to find a ride.  To my dismay, most of the taxis that passed were going the wrong way, and they were full. Suddenly, a big modern looking bus drove up, and stopped, and for a reasonable rate, agreed to take us to Ocosingo, which was civilization, and just a one hour  cab ride away from San Cristobal.

 We jumped on the bus, which had a/c, plush seats, and movies.  We relaxed..except when the bus lurched while flying over bumps. The driver didn't slow down for those topes.   A time or two I was sure that we were going to tip over!  After about an hour, Dale got up to go to the bathroom. He came back from the toilet and said, "The door to the toilet sticks, be careful" oh great. This strong man had trouble with the toilet door. I went back there anyway. To my relief, it was clean, although it was NOT air conditioned and there were diesel fumes. And I could not open the door. I kicked, I yelled, I wiggled the latch. Ayudami!  I yelled and yelled, and some guy asks me, you speak English? like who cares?  It was so hot back there, I was feeling sick, trapped..Then they stopped the bus and Jeremy came back.. somehow, someone got that door opened. As I walked back to my seat, everyone was glaring at me. Stupid tourist... ugh.   I crawled into my seat and fell apart. Tired, hot, starved, nauseated. I just wanted off that damn bus.

As we were coming into Ocosingo, Jeremy said, there's a restaurant right where the bus will drop us off.  That made me feel better, barely.  And then we got off the bus, and the restaurant was gone..apparently boarded up and closed. We all looked at each other, and I just started walking to San Cristobal. I found a supermarket and went in but couldn't find anything that resembled food that I could eat.  I finally found some yogurt and bought that and some water.   Meanwhile, Jeremy, who was in a lot better shape than I was, bought bread, cold cuts, and condiments.   I downed the yogurt as fast as I could, and we hopped into a cab. In the dark, I made sandwiches. The lunch meat was labeled "FUD" I am not sure if that was supposed to reassure me, but it did not.  My sandwich was disgusting. Nothing tasted good.  The bread, the meat, not even the mayo.  Dale and Jeremy had no problem, they ate their sandwiches and Dale finished mine too. I'm happy to say the rest of that trip was uneventful, and we safely made it back to our bnb.