Happy Jolebration Day!
Today my BFF, Johannah Cantrell, would have celebrated another birthday. I always like to celebrate her in spirit so, as per my annual tradition, I'm back to share more fun facts & stories about Jo.
College Days: Connie & Johannah
One of the first things I learned about Jo was that she was a big Fan of cats. She loved them. A lot. We're talkin' manic cat love.
I was in the seventh grade the first time I visited Jo's house and she immediately introduced me to her cat, Baby.
Baby was a bruiser of a cat. Baby was a yellow tabby about the size of a dangerous raccoon and had a demeanor that reminded one of Marlon Brando in The Wild One. Baby would disappear for most of the day only to return in the late afternoon, regularly looking like he had been in a barroom brawl, boasting scratches and usually a torn ear or swollen eye. Jo would rush outside to pick him up off the back porch to cuddle him.
“Ohhh Baby!" Jo would coo. "You poor thing. Did those bad cats attack you? You're my widdle Baaahh-beee. ” And then she’d cover his head in kisses while he glowered with an expression that seemed to say, “Yeah I’m pretty beat up, but you should see the other guys!"
I had no doubt that whatever the catfight had been about, Baby had started it.
Baby: The Cat Version of Marlon Brando
But Jo was completely oblivious to Baby’s streetwise ways. After she finished tending to his battle wounds, she would prepare his favorite dish; a bowl of Carnation Cream evaporated milk—heated to a temperature of 'just-so'. (Baby would snub it otherwise.) And this was before microwaves were a 'thing', which meant the cream had to be heated slowly on the stove, which took for-eeevvv-eerrrr.
My other BFF, Sheila, and I would just roll our eyes at Jo's misplaced affections. And then we would flee the room because once Baby finished gulping down his perfectly-warmed heavy cream, he would thank Jo with a loud, human-sized belch, which Jo found delightful. For about 30 seconds. And then Jo would also flee the room because Baby’s belches were so potent that they would engulf the entire room in a noxious odor that I still lack the words to describe. No one could re-enter the room for a good ten minutes afterwards. Nevertheless, Jo deemed Baby's toxic burps to be a source of cuteness (although I have personally witnessed her pulling her turtleneck sweater up over her nose and mouth to survive the stench).
In spite of Baby, I was also a cat lover and so, naturally, Jo and I owned a cat together in college. This did not thrill our other BFF/roommate, Sheila, because she was not-so-into cats. (Sheila was a dog person.) Jo and I probably should have asked Sheila before bringing a cat home to our shared apartment (especially because our landlord didn't allow pets—other than the mice that ran freely through our kitchen at night) but we had visited an animal shelter during Christmas break and had fallen in love with a fluffy, but scrawny, partially-persian kitten with a half orange, half black face. Her siblings would push her aside, so she never got much food and Jo and I couldn't stand it and there you go. We named her Omega and toted her back to college, convinced that she might evict the resident mice.
Instead she developed chronic diarrhea. (Perhaps we shouldn't have named her after a Greek symbol that often represents "the end" because her "end" was not our friend.)
Hanging Out With Omega at West Virginia University
(And dear Lord! Did we have crappy cameras back then or what?)
Our diarrhetic cat posed a problem. (Especially for Sheila.) Everyday we would return from our classes to find fragrant piles of poo scattered willy-nilly throughout the house, like mini cow-patties. We experimented with all sorts of different cat food. It didn't help. We tried keeping her in one room so she would feel more secure. That didn't work either, but the poop was easier to find because it was in a more concentrated area (which really didn't thrill Sheila because the concentrated area was her bedroom).
We would have taken her to the vet (the cat, not Sheila) but we didn't, choosing instead to put our small sums of money towards more pressing needs—like tuition, rent and food. And newspapers, which we spread all over the house for Omega to use if she couldn't make it to her box on time. Sadly, there were not enough newspapers on the entire campus to meet her needs.
In a desperate attempt to keep Sheila from throwing the cat (and Jo and I) out on the street, we designated a single room to be our giant cat box. It was an empty room with hardwood floors that we used as our personal dance studio. Every morning Jo and I would cover the room wall to wall with newspapers and then park Omega and her food and water (and a useless box of kitty litter) inside to await our return in the late afternoons.
Most cats would love having a private salon all to themselves. And Omega did seem to love the room. But she would fertilize it so thoroughly that Jo and I were forced to tie bandanas around our noses and mouths to block out the fumes upon entering the room to clean it.
Jo and I were distraught. We tried everything we could think of to help our fur baby get over the runs. She remained scrawny and sickly and all that we had left at our disposal was prayer. Somehow, she (and we) survived the school term and that summer I asked my mom to cat-sit because, as we all know, that's what moms are for. Thank God I did, for it was my mother who discovered the hidden source of Omega's bowel distress.
Mom only had Omega for a week or two when she accidentally caused a fecal incident (the cat's, not someone else's) because she rolled up a newspaper to put in the trash. The cat was standing nearby and crapped right on the spot. Case solved! My mother instantly deduced that Omega's original owner must have used a rolled-up newspaper to whack her when she was a small kitten and she had been terrified of newspapers ever since. (Or maybe she just got stressed out by reading the news. Who doesn't?)
Omega, happily resettled at my Mom's house.
Sadly, Jo and I had been traumatizing Omega for a full semester by locking her in a room, completely carpeted with her greatest fear. I don't know how she survived us. We felt terrible and promised to never bring a newspaper into our home ever again. But it was too late. Mom had fallen in love with Omega, and Omega had fallen in love with my mom. Omega lived out the rest of her years in my mom's home—fat and happy and totally oblivious to the news.
And that's how Jo and I learned that we were unfit cat parents.
But that didn't stop us from owning more cats during the remainder of our roommate days. And when Disney re-released its classic film, The Aristocats, Jo and I lined up with all the grade schoolers to see it. From that day forward, we'd look longingly at our cat as we headed out the door for classes—stretched out in a sunny spot by the window—and we'd start belting out the song "Everybody Wants To Be A Cat".
And we really meant it. We really did want to be our cat. Who doesn't?
Well, Sheila maybe . . .
Now join in Jolebration by listening to the song that Jo and I LOVED to sing:
"Everybody Wants to be a Cat" from Disney's The Aristocats.