Every once in awhile, you come across the perfect tree. And if you’re really lucky, it’s on property that you know you’re allowed to be on. Mine was a big old Maple on the east side of my grandparents’ house, the side that faced Gene’s Drive-Thru Carry-Out. The tree had a bough that was low enough for my cousins and me to wrap our arms around, pull ourselves horizontal to the earth while we pushed our feet against the trunk, and lob a leg over mid-swing.
Each weekend at my grandparents’ was a race to get into the tree. Whoever got there first claimed it, and being the tallest and last of the Big Kids (the first four grandchildren of the 10), I had an advantage. My cousin Meghan and I spent the most time in the tree, seeing who could go higher, and who was brave enough to step on the branch that didn’t seem strong enough to hold us. We were the ones who stole all of Grandma’s spoons out of her silverware drawer, and strung them all in the branches with yarn so that we could have an entire tree of wind chimes. When Grandma went to set the table for dinner, her fingers grasped at the empty space in the drawer, and all she could hear was a jingling from outside her window.
After looking down through the trees and seeing her laughing, Meghan and I cut down the spoons and went in for dinner.
Seeing as my grandparents lived on a farm, there was no shortage of stray cats, each of whom were adopted as soon as we dug the litter from underneath the wood pile. My brother always took the tiger-striped cats. Meghan always took the charcoal gray ones. I, on the other hand, always took the runts. I don’t know if I felt sorry for them, or if it was some sort of mothering instinct kicking in, but I always picked the runt.
This left me with some obstacles: Muffin was a light gray runt who was cross-eyed, and every time she heard a noise or lightning struck, she’d run head-on into a wall. And then there was Bart, who would follow me anywhere I went. But as he got older, he developed a bad habit of ingesting his food twice, sometimes three times, and we began calling him Barf.
Because Meghan and I were in the tree so much, we were missing out on valuable cat time on the ground. And while cats can climb trees, they don’t always want to go up there when YOU want them to. So we solved the problem with: THE KITTY-VATOR.
It was just a plastic milk crate with old sheets lying in the bottom, but to us, it was the best invention ever. With a frayed rope tied from handle to handle and up over a tree branch to create a not-so-intricate pulley system, the Kitty-Vator got us what we wanted off the ground. Generally, I climbed into the tree with the rope looped around my belt loops, and Meghan stood on the ground, rallying the cats around her and fitting as many as she could into the milk crate. We’d then tape a piece of cardboard over the crate (so they couldn’t escape) and I hoisted them into the tree. Meghan then scampered up to help me unload the loot, and we spent the day lounging on long branches, barefoot, and holding cats in our arms. If we thought the tree was perfect, well why would the cats think otherwise?
Eventually we nailed platforms between forked branches and kept a bag of cat food up there, too. And the cats learned to like it. I can’t imagine, though, what the customers at my grandpa’s store thought when they saw two little blonde girls jamming cats into a milk crate and disappearing into the leaves of a Maple tree.