Ohhhh, Literati. Did you think you could get rid of me so easily?
They say curiosity killed the cat, but for humans, sometimes, compassion and innocence can be just as treacherous. Here, a tale from my Jewish Mama (biased? Surely, you jest! Sorry, I’ll stop calling you Shirley), about childhood and standing up for yourself.
by Miryam Howard-Meier
Whenever Tamera Sue was up to one of her schemes, she would assign me a part. I was Ethel, opposite Lucy. She was just a year my senior, but acted as if she were running for president and assumed utmost superiority. I was not very ‘playground smart’ for my 7 years and had yet to learn the wisdom of resisting peer pressure.
As it turned out, Tamara Sue was just the neighborhood friend to teach me these life lessons! So, for this I can look back and be grateful, however, at the time, consequences were far from comforting.
One December California day, Tamara Sue came running across the street to our little bungalow house, visibly upset. With her corkscrew jet-black curls bobbing up and down like Slinkies and a snaggle tooth escaping her mouth, she proceeded to tearfully tell me how she had found a litter of abandoned baby kittens under the steps of her garage and we (notice the ‘we’) must buy them food and milk or they would surely die!
Apparently Tamara Sue’s parents did not approve of rescuing these feral kittens, so she felt it was our duty to save them.
“How can we buy them food without any money?” I inquired.
She had a plan of course, for she was the brains between us…
“We will sneak behind the mailman this afternoon, emptying all the mailboxes on the block. Surely there will be some cash in the envelopes to buy kitty food,” she exhorted with genuine confidence.
With all the drama of an academy award winner, she made me vow to silence and convinced me that this was an act of life or death and that we would be thought of forever as heroes! So, without hesitation, I became her trusted accomplice, not realizing that thievery could never result in anything good.
We pulled off our plan later that afternoon and with a handful of mail, hid out to open each envelope. Just as planned we found some cash within assorted greeting cards which Tamara Sue quickly stuffed into her pocket.
Without blinking an eye, she took my hand in hers and dragged me off to Mrs. Barrett’s corner store. Making a beeline to the pet food aisle, we were immediately drawn to a row of colorful red and yellow cans with the picture of a smiling cat standing on its hind legs playing a fiddle. Tamara Sue reached for two cans from a high shelf which she handed to me, then proceeded to get a bottle of milk.
Mrs. Barrett was waiting for us behind the checkout counter with an inquisitive look as we placed our items down before her. Tamara Sue pulled out the crumpled bills from her pocket, displaying them proudly. Mrs. Barrett knew us both very well and was aware that our families did not own pets, so she was quick to ask us why we were buying cat food.
Tamara Sue and I looked at each other in momentary panic.
“We-e-e….we are buying food for old Mrs. Johnson’s cats because she isn’t feeling well today,” spouted Tamara Sue with dramatic flair.
Wow, I thought, Tamara Sue is a genius. She has all the right answers!
Little did we know that Mrs. Johnson had already shopped that day for cat food and was feeling as good as ever!
We immediately proceeded to feed the hungry kittens, but Mrs. Barrett knew something was up. Without much effort, our caper was exposed when she spoke to Tamara Sue’s mother and discovered the rest of the story! Later that evening, Tamara Sue’s mother and Mrs. Barrett paid a visit to my parents, relaying the events of our very busy day, and how Tamara Sue had blamed me for the whole scam. As I listened, while hiding behind the door, I could not believe what I was hearing! I shivered in fear when they mentioned the words, federal offense, threatening to call the police and was red-hot with anger just thinking how Tamara Sue had blamed me.
I finally couldn’t contain myself any longer and burst out from my hiding place, exploding in tears and inaudible confessions, shouting, “Tamara Sue made me do it! Tamara Sue made me do it!” Slobbery, snot-filled sobs burst forth with such force that all were in shock, concerned that perhaps I had fallen into some tantrum state of hysteria. I continued wailing uncontrollably until my mother finally picked me up from the floor and carried me to my room where she put me to bed.
Fortunately, as it turned out, no one bought the story of me coming up with the scheme, as it was evident that I wasn’t that ingenious. Tamara Sue, however, had managed to create quite a reputation for herself at 9 years old. I was, nonetheless, greatly punished and had to personally do some door knocking with sincere apologies at every house down the entire block of Poplar Place. My tears continued to flow without measure from door to door and it was obvious to all that I was not a hardened criminal. I was ultimately able to put this tragic event behind me and never fell for Tamara Sue’s desperate pleas again.
Mrs. Barrett never rang up the cat food, but instead, put the money aside until completing her investigation. She was no dummy! The fact that we had left the evidence of empty envelopes in Tamara Sue’s garage sped up the process for making full restitution.
So, that was the first and the last of my criminal exploits. Tamara Sue and I were not allowed to play together for the remainder of the school year and given menial tasks each day at Mrs. Barrett’s store, lasting throughout our entire summer vacation.
The year of 1961 will always be remembered as the year of my failed mail fraud caper, of which there were no heroines.
By the way, momma cat returned to her litter of very full babies later that same day.
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Born and raised in California, Miryam moved to Alaska just out of High School where she worked on a commercial salmon vessel. After several years, she relocated to Washington State where she raised a family and pursued a career in Juvenile Corrections. Upon retiring, she began writing about her life adventures. Over the years, her writing has expanded to include many venues, from more personal experiences, spoken-word poetry, to whimsical children’s stories. Her writing talents have been published in newspapers, on-line sites, as well as included in print such as Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Coffee House Chronicles. Miryam is a great-grandmother, a wife and member of her community in Jerusalem, Israel where she continues to be inspired.
Miryam proves that even the seemingly humble kitty has something more lion in wait.