An April, 2009, Tiny Surprise

After a blissful afternoon on the riding mower, the warm sunshine above and the gorgeous Blue Ridge mountains across the road from me, I decided to empty the mower’s utility wagon, which had spent the winter behind the shed overflowing with branches I’d trimmed last fall. The multitude of winter’s snowfalls had compacted the pile, I noticed, as I attached the wagon to the mower. I went into the shed for the pitchfork, lay it across the wagon and drove several hundred feet to my burn pile.

As I slid the pitchfork under the last stack, lifted, and tossed it onto the mound of dry wood scraps and twigs, I heard a squeal. I stood stark still as my mind filtered through decades of learned sounds and instantly recognized this sound that I hadn’t heard in a very long time. Seeing nothing on the ground, I peered into the wagon and was stunned to gaze at four black and white kittens, eyes closed, squirming in a nest of pine needles, one squealing loudly as it nuzzled around its siblings. I blinked disbelievingly, imagining a homeless mother cat using my not-very-pristine wagon for her birthing event.

I wanted to touch the crying baby, to reassure it that things would be okay, but held my hand back. Were they like birds, who abandoned their eggs or young if touched by a human? I didn’t know, so decided not to take the risk.

Quickly I jumped on the mower and returned the wagon to the rear of the shed. I wanted mama to find her babies, so I left; a  re-visit a few hours later showed no sign of mama. Or—wait—was there? I looked toward the burn pile and saw a dark cat standing nearby. Ahh, I’ll bet you’re mama, I thought. Come on over here. Your babies need you.

I left again, re-checking several times until, just as the bright orange sun lowered behind the trees near the shed, I found the kittens still there alone; yet, I believed that mama would return. The following morning, a sunny day greeted me as I walked around the shed, silently praying for the kittens’ safety. Before I turned the corner, though, I heard squeals. One kitten remained, pushing against the wagon’s corner, crying profusely. Okay, three are gone. She’s in the process of moving her family to a new home, I thought, and returned to the house.

Engrossed in projects, I forgot about the kitten. Hours later I hurried to the backyard and was dismayed to find it lying on his back under full sunshine, making no sound or motion. Lord, had he died? Quickly I scooped his soft body into my palm. He began to squeal just as before, which reassured me. Now I suspected mama had abandoned her noisy child.

I brought Kitty inside, wrapped him in a soft towel, poured some organic skim milk into a tiny bowl thinking, I don’t know if this resembles your mama’s milk or not, little one, but it will keep you hydrated, if nothing else.

I found a tiny dropper sealed in cellophane in my silverware drawer and tore it open. My fifteen-year-old cat, Hilary, slept on the back of the couch in the next room, completely unaware, as Kitty squealed while I warmed the milk. When I placed the dropper of milk in his mouth and squeezed gently, Kitty quieted and eagerly lapped. After several droppersful, he seemed satisfied and I returned him to his outdoor nursery, giving mama one last chance to claim her sweet baby.

At 5 pm, though, he still lay alone and my heart officially pronounced Kitty “Abandoned.” I brought it inside, then drove to PetSmart to purchase a feeding kit for orphaned kittens, a new experience for both of us ahead. I heated the thick yellow milk and poured it into a plastic bottle about three inches high. When I first gave the bottle, Kitty briefly choked and struggled, yet quickly got the hang of our endeavor.Once, the precious being no larger than a sausage, lifted his tiny paw and held the bottle.

An hour after feeding, Kitty woke, shakily muzzled around his basket but, in time fell asleep again, curled into a circle, and occasionally whimpered or twitched. My God, how fragile and precious is life. Can this tiny being survive? I wondered as I gently stroked Kitty’s head and back with my forefinger, wanting him to know how deeply I cared, how much I wanted him to survive. If he did, I promised, I’d care well for him.

The next day we went to the vet, where I learned Kitty was probably less than two weeks old. Kittens open their eyes at two weeks. The tech thought he was a male; the vet didn’t guess because she said she was usually wrong. I needed to put Kitty on a heating pad, she told me, feed him every four hours, stimulate its butt so it would eliminate, and return when it was three weeks old for deworming and a checkup. She told me how to begin weaning him at 3 weeks: mix some kitten food with formula and work on the transition to the bowl. She told me also to keep his eyes wiped; one kept getting stuck shut.

Kitty opened both eyes on 4-15-09, a few days later. They were deep blue, almost navy, and extraordinarily beautiful. The next day Kitty didn’t smell as clean as I wanted him to when he met my friend, so I filled a chili bowl with warm water and suds, gently sponged him, and rinsed him off under a gentle, warm stream of tap water. He howled ceaselessly during the entire one-minute bath but quickly quieted when I wrapped him in towel bunting. Then he ate and slept, nestled in all the clean towels and rolled washcloths that I tucked on either side of him to give the sense of companionship.

I took Kitty to work each day until he could stay home alone, which was several weeks away. My friend below, Carol Tyree, loved and cared for Kitty, along with me, throughout our workday.

2009-05-14 13.06.50

(The above is an excerpt from Kitty’s Journal. I named him Button, as in “cute as a …,” and estimated his birth date as April 2, 2009. It was the date my seven-year-old son, Keith, died. I knew Keith would be happy to transform the date from sorrow to joy.)

Happy belated birthday, Button!IMG_20150722_115759655


About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me to a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I found so many opportunities to grow: 10 year facilitator for an online writing circle of women writers across the country; thirteen year editor of the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal; a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site; program chair for two Stories from the Heart national conferences in Austin, T. Presently I'm teaching Women's Life-Writing and Older Women's Legacy workshops in my part of the world in Central Virginia and facilitating the ongoing Circle of Memories Writing Circle (formerly an OWL workshop that continued on) at the Crozet Public Library. I am blessed with three wonderful children, a son and two daughters; a small, huge-hearted family; dear friends; my beagle Addie and cat Button. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. All these years later, I'm scheduled to publish my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life, in 2018.
This entry was posted in Animal friends, Compassion, Gifts, Gratitude, Kindness, Mother Nature, Mystery. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to An April, 2009, Tiny Surprise

  1. Thank you for sharing this sweet story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, how this stirs up memories. A very sweet story, Mary Jo! And it appears a very sweet Buttons. Your tale took me back to the night my son called from Houston saying he’d rescued a tiny kitten – now what? The next day (after he spent a sleepless night) I met him halfway and came home with Numbers, a 3-week-old calico-tortie. For several weeks, Numbers went to daycare at the Vet while I went to the office (no pets allowed there). Reading your logistics with feeding reminds me of how important nurture is — for the young, and equally for those of us doing the nurturing. Thanks – I needed that! Please give my best to Buttons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      Thanks so much, Jazz. I just gave Button a big hug from you and told him a little about you. He looked at me as he listened. I swear he knows what I say.
      I had such a laid-back exec director at work. She always smiled at Button when we walked in. It was awesome to take him to work. He was surrounded by loving cheerleaders and I’m sure that helped!
      Say hi to Numbers. I love torties!


  3. judyalter says:

    Mary Jo, I was intrigued by your own personal story as I was by Buttons’ story. Cheers to both of you for finding your way forward in such a successful and meaningful way.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing this sweet story. Reminds me of our cat Wanda who arrived at my house in the hands of my grandson the day my best friend died.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      Those are some of the most moving stories, those moments of serendipity, are they not? I basked a long time yesterday in those memories and especially remembered my friend, Carol, who might have loved Button more than I, if possible. Carol died in January…
      Kindly give Wanda a hug from me.


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