Even the cats are in the Christmas spirit

“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Well, of course the mice weren’t stirring. We didn’t have any. My mother was very proud of running a tight ship during my childhood, and mice simply weren’t tolerated. Plus, there was the fact that we lived in town, which in and of itself confers a lack of mice, especially compared to a farmhouse. And, for the activity I’m about to describe, it wasn’t even the night before Christmas.

We were never in a huge hurry to put up our Christmas tree. It was lots of work to haul the boxes up from the closet under the stairs, still more effort to insert the right size plastic boughs in the holes in the plastic trunk. Some of the “needle clusters” invariably fell off, and had to be replaced on their respective branches. Then came the rituals of untangling lights, discarding mysteriously broken ornaments, and hanging everything on the tree JUST SO. There couldn’t be any holes devoid of lights or ornaments, lest we notice that the tree wasn’t exactly realistic. But finally, after much toil and familial disagreement, there the tree stood. It glowed gently in the darkened living room, redolent of basement-stored plastic. Ah, Christmas was finally here.

Since early childhood, it was always my habit to go lay underneath the Christmas tree. I would gaze upward into the plastic boughs, squinting my eyes until the tiny lights became glowing multicolored blobs. The ornaments just became so many mirrors, magically reflecting the twinkling tinsel. I would dream happily of what presents would be in this very place with my name on them on Christmas morning. Would it be that doll I had seen? Would it be that remote control car? Oh, maybe that CD player! I could hardly wait!

One year, I got to experience the wonder that is seeing someone else’s face upon opening a present that I gave them. Seeing someone I love light up with joy turned out to be more wonderful than even receiving the presents I wanted most. Soon, I started gazing up through the tree making my Christmas list, not for me to receive, but to give to my family. Other traditions have come and gone, but gazing at the tree really gets me into the spirit.

Apparently my Christmas spirit this year was contagious. I decided to go shopping on one of the coldest days of last month. I noticed that the barn cats were out on the patio playing with some old string, but didn’t really think much of it. I was stepping out the door, looking back to say goodbye to darling hubby, and I happened to look down and see the string, right where I was about to put my foot.

Or, not-string. Somehow, on the coldest day of the season thus far, my barn cats had managed to find a snake. They had thoughtfully removed its head and a few inches of its tail before sharing their new favorite toy with me. They’ve shared before—sometimes a few feathers, sometimes a mole from the garden, once even an entire rabbit’s head—but always during warmer weather, and not directly on the welcome mat. Such thoughtful kitties, to share this fun nope-rope with me, this danger noodle extraordinaire. And, it seemed to be a coordinated attempt! A friend, who lives several miles away and does not share my cats, also found a similarly presented snake on her doorstep. What could it be, but the most cutting-edge Purr-terest gift of the year?

I stepped gingerly over the carcass, fervently hoping that it would be gone upon my return. Innocent bystanders probably doubted my sanity, as my shopping was punctuated with head shakes, “hmphs,” and reptile-related mutterings. And, sure enough, the snake was sort of gone when I got back. By sort of, I mean that the cats had reclaimed the “gift” but left me the “wrapper.” Somehow, they had eaten the meat, but left the black and white skin still draped over the front doorstep, perhaps in case I changed my mind and decided that I wanted a toy after all. I can only describe my reaction as “respectful revulsion,” because it looked like a pretty clean job. But still, ew.

I must say, I have not heard a mouse stirring for quite some time. If that’s the cats’ gift to me, I’m grateful. I’m even more grateful that they haven’t shared any more “toys,” at least so far. I’ll be happy to keep them supplied with spare trimmings and scraps, because, you see, it truly is better to give than receive, especially when it comes to felines. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!